Reviews by Maurice Dieleman
|Richard Buckner – Impasse - Night
& Day / Fargo
Richard Buckner is still one of the most respected figures in the world of alternative country and indie-rock. A nice compliment for sure, but all of this flattering didn’t bring him the fame and fortune that he certainly deserves. The real shame of it all is that Richard Buckner has a hard time with making records and simply keeping them in print. This is probably one of the reasons why Richard Buckner’s latest effort is a plain homemade recording on which he plays all instruments himself, with occasional backup of his wife Penny Jo on the drums.
The end result of this homemade recording is the simply titled Impasse that often recalls the warmth of Buckner’s early Lloyd Mains-produced recordings, such as his excellent debut Bloomed and the landmark album Devotion & Doubt, but Impasse also finds Buckner exploring new grounds and sounds, which is somehow a similar continuation of his previous release The Hill, a mostly inaccessible single track recording with a pre-war poem from E.G. Masters. This new album is also a continuation of Buckner’s never-ending journey to the depths of the human soul. And while the inaccesible The Hill is just one 30-minute track, Impasse has been cut into fifteen pieces, which makes it friendlier for some listeners, but it's still Buckner at his trippiest and Impasse doesn't reveal itself immediately.
"Love Is Such A Monster, Kid", Richard sang the words on Bloomed with such a haunting voice, as if the words were written with blood on his bathroom wall. He didn’t only scare little children with his haunting folk songs, but he also knows how to scare the hell out of someone like Nick Cave.
"I hope you win. You’ve been around (so you said).Did you find someone who wouldn’t mind the time we found with nothing left to find? It was dead in the storm", I wonder what he exactly means with that. Richard Buckner has surely become more mysterious in his writings through the years, but the haunting voice remains, as well as the sadness and Buckner’s lonesome guitar play.
With some of the experimental tracks on Impasse that only last a few seconds, the only minor thing to complain about is the half-finished state in which Impasse has been released. It would have been better to leave out Buckner’s improvisations, even though it also creates a certain ambiance. This record Impasse is here to grow on the listener, which it certainly does in many ways. And while it’s definitely not Richard Buckner’s strongest effort, Impasse shows that most of today's singer-songwriters are not even worthy to stand in Richard Buckner’s shadow.
|Fletcher Harrington - Eyes On
Fire & Knuckles Sore - Lopie
This suberb 12-song collection and Harrington’s first solo effort, Eyes On Fire & Knuckles Sore, is an elegant do-it-yourself masterpiece that is perfectly constructed from a surprisingly broad and unusual take on psychedelic country music, which inadvertently grows in space, depth and honest beauty with each careful listen. Fletcher Harrington is an adventurous singer-songwriter that comes very close to approximating an experimental and groundbreaking kind of Michael Nesmith-styled Americana in which there are no musical rules and borders. In fact, everything seems to be allowed on Harrington’s beautifully titled debut CD Eyes On Fire & Knuckles Sore. This exceptional record is Harrington’s quest for a different kind of Nashville, but also a different approach on crafting introspective songs from the great American song book.
Very much like the lost repertoire of Cowboy Buddah, the songs on tunesmith and Cowboy Buddah's front man Harrington’s Eyes On Fire & Knuckles Sore are a sublime fusion of reckless garage punk and neo-traditional country, dominated by a mid-‘70s cosmic American country meets messy rock chic. Even though Harrington’s remarkably Neil Young-like falsetto may scare unaware listeners, most of the tender ballads and the album’s strongest moments arrive in a well-crafted form of memorable and dramatic country duets, like the third song 'Paralyzed', which is one of the many lovely duets gratefully supported by backing vocalist Patti Pannell. This way of singing together reminds us of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris on the milestone record Grievous Angel, but Fletcher's approach is less contemporary.
And then there are also the so-called throwaway psycho-country songs with a simple three-chord assault, like the album’s nonchalant opener 'As If You Had A Choice' and the weird 'With A Shape Like Yours', a catchy and somewhat ironic song that sounds brilliantly fresh. Other confrontational highlights are 'I’m A God Today' and the final 11-minute anthem 'Coming Apart At The Seams', which is notable for the beautiful and ambient break that turns into another triumphal and stripped-down ballad, with just Harrington on his acoustic guitar.
"Because I’m God a god today and nothing can take that away, even if you wanted, even if you dared", Harrington’s often cryptically and surrealistic approach of writing songs suggest that Fletch Harrington is mostly inspired by the old-school Californian singer-songwriter legacy. But Harrington’s intimate love for Jackson Browne, Gene Clark, Gram Parsons, Michael 'Papa Nez' Nesmith and pedal steel guitars melts easily with anything else, especially his deep roots in such loose South-western rock ‘n’ roll outfits as the Minutemen and R.E.M. Not only is Harrington’s somewhat obscure Eyes On Fire & Knuckles Sore amongst the finest 21st century alternative country albums, it is also a brilliant redefinition of the cosmic Americana sound.
Produced by several species of small furry animals, Eyes On Fire & Knuckles Sore is an atmospheric Americana album that at the same time explores new territory. Fletcher Harrington is certainly a God on this terrific album.