Out & About
I don't imagine that Richard Buckner was asked to contribute to Return of the Grievous Angel, the Gram Parsons tribute album old flame Emmylou Harris curated a few years ago, a record that spearheaded the latest Parsons craze in the ever-expanding alt-country biosphere. I have no doubt that he could've held his own beside the set's higher-profile names--Beck, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, the Pretenders--but to me, Buckner's just too much of an oddball to fit into that club, his creaky, creepy songs too covered by southern-gothic cobwebs to make sense in the context of the California Kid's sun-kissed lullabies. But then that seems to be Buckner's terminal position: too dark to be a honky-tonker, too honest to be a balladeer, too weird to be a heartthrob.
Consider, for instance, his latest album, The Hill. A musical setting of early-20th-century writer Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology, the record tells the stories of a city full of dead people orating from the grave, accompanied by collaborators Joey Burns' and John Convertino's (better known as Calexico) stark, difficult avant-twang soundscapes. That's not exactly the type of boy-loses-girl tropes more streamlined alt-country outfits like Dallas' own Old 97's have ridden to modest commercial returns, and that's exactly why Buckner released The Hill on Overcoat Records, a tiny boutique imprint run by Chicagoan Howard Greynolds, whose day job is doing press for the widely respected Thrill Jockey label.
Greynolds' cramped Chicago apartment is a far cry from the cushy corner offices of MCA, the major label for whom Buckner recorded two albums, 1997's excellent Devotion+Doubt and '98's prickly Since, on which members of the loose Thrill Jockey troupe played. (It's a small world, after all.) But it's the kind of situation that makes sense when you figure in Buckner's music, a sound like no other in his field, a sound like you'd expect to hear from someone who's seen both sides of the fence. A preternatural grasp on the existential ramifications of love and life and all that's never really been a marketable skill (unless you believe Robert Johnson did in fact sell his soul at the crossroads, or that Mick Jagger, a friend of Parsons, actually is the devil), so cut the man some slack: Rubbing elbows with the Hollywood elite's gotta seem like a letdown when you're just barely outrunning the demons nipping at your heels.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.