When he's on, Richard Buckner writes songs packed with little moments and giant emotions: the vow we couldn't keep, the look that says we're done, the snapshot that brings it crashing back. On Devotion & Doubt, he's on abo... more »ut half the time, using his remarkably expressive voice (he sounds like an unselfconscious Dwight Yoakam) in great roots-rock story songs like the rollicking "A Goodbye Rye" or the bleary "4 A.M." Too much of the rest comes off as more poetry than lyric, however, as Buckner places his compelling but foggy images in atmospheric soundscapes that regularly disguise as much as they reveal. --David Cantwell« less
When he's on, Richard Buckner writes songs packed with little moments and giant emotions: the vow we couldn't keep, the look that says we're done, the snapshot that brings it crashing back. On Devotion & Doubt, he's on about half the time, using his remarkably expressive voice (he sounds like an unselfconscious Dwight Yoakam) in great roots-rock story songs like the rollicking "A Goodbye Rye" or the bleary "4 A.M." Too much of the rest comes off as more poetry than lyric, however, as Buckner places his compelling but foggy images in atmospheric soundscapes that regularly disguise as much as they reveal. --David Cantwell
"Debut albums that come out of nowhere are impressive, but a worthy sophomore album can be even more exciting. In most instances, a performer gets geared up for years before making that first album, but the second one can prove to be a disappointment. Only a handful of artists have been able to convincingly improve on that crucial first release. Elvis Costello easily topped My Aim is True with the raging This Year's Model, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan bettered his self-titled debut because it contained songs that he'd written instead of old blues and folk songs, and The Band was a better album than even the varied Music From Big Pink. But Richard Buckner, someone you've probably never heard of, has done a stunning job with his second release, Devotion + Doubt. I first saw Richard Buckner open for Son Volt, standing alone on the stage with an acoustic guitar and his soft, whispering voice. At first, I was not very excited to hear another earnest folkie and rarely am I impressed with opening acts. They're usually openers because they don't have the talent nor the acquired skill to headline their own shows. But I was very impressed with Buckner, not so much with where he was at the time, but I could tell he seemed to know what he was doing, and that he'd probably only get better. When a song that you've never heard stays with you from an opening act, as "Blue and Wonder" did with me, that shows that something is there. I bought Buckner's first album Bloomed. It was a strong collection of acoustic-folk-country music, but nothing that knocked me off my feet. "Blue and Wonder" is the strongest song of the collection, but "This is Where" and "Gauzy Dress in the Sun" were good songs as well. But a first listen to Devotion + Doubt was a stirring moment. It's that utter rarity, a second album that absolutely blows away the first. Devotion is a wonderful album, and a wonderfully depressing one. Buckner explores the common themes of heartache and loss, but rarely have these ideas been explored with so much depth. Buckner has mentioned he was going through some personal turmoil during the writing and recording, a divorce, in fact, and he has obviously used the album as a sort of therapy, to dwell on what went wrong, and why. The problem is, there isn't always a why, and the lack of answers on the record makes it even more devastating, and rewarding. Buckner's lyrics don't always make literal sense, like `Won't you slump over, and stir my shuffle down?' from "Ed's Song," but the music and his singing tell the listener what's going on here: heartbreak, loss, loneliness, hope for reconciliation, and resignation. It's the imagery that Buckner pieces together which builds the emotions throughout the songs. In the midst of these images, specific lines jump out and give away some of the specifics that led to this situation. "Pull" starts things off, opening with the lines `He said I'll pull you down, she said Yeah, I know you will,' and lays the groundwork with its spare instrumentation that builds slightly and rolls back to the melody. It's one of about six or seven of the songs that have a backing band, a band made up mostly of members of Giant Sand, and they do a fine job of enhancing without overwhelming a song. "Lil Wallet Picture" follows, carried along with haunting pedal steel and violin behind Buckner's acoustic guitar. Buckner tells of the last few moments, `as you packed up your load, there was one last look, and the U-haul broke free.' And as you see the lonely person left standing on the porch, he sings `damn this stretch of 99, that takes so many lives, one of `em was mine...' Songwriters, most notably Springsteen, have used the highway as a metaphor for escape, but rarely has it been used as effectively. In "4am" Buckner is searching for somebody to help him make sense of this situation, asking `where are you tonight?' And the last time he sings this line, Buckner steps away from the microphone, calling out an echo-laden plea that is devastating. Buckner is a big man with a beautiful whisper of voice, giving these songs a slow, late-night feeling. His voice cracks and wavers while going from a whisper to full-throated bitterness, and it is the instrument that makes these songs so emotionally charged. "Roll" is played entirely on piano, but there are no fills, no flashy fingerings. Only the spare melody line to carry the tune, with each verse laying it out: `As I go down, please take care.' As with the rest of the album, Buckner uses only the music necessary for maximum impact. Few musicians and songwriters have such a knack for subtlety. The album concludes with its best song, "Song of 27." After all he has gone through, Buckner still longs for one last chance singing, `on nights like this my hope returns.' But Buckner goes from hope to resignation with `I'm dreaming still of who we were, though I may be miles away from her.' He realizes all he has now are memories, and the hope he felt earlier is dashed because he knows she's never coming back. Buckner doesn't let you know exactly what happened. It's not important. But if things aren't spelled out for the listener, you still cannot miss what is happening. Somehow, a relationship ended, and we all know there are dozens of reasons why a relationship falls apart. And Devotion + Doubt proves that there are no easy answers. Buckner has released a record startling in its restraint. It takes guts to leave the songs so unadorned, to let the tunes speak for themselves. Neil Young once said about his most despairing album, Tonight's the Night, that the listener shouldn't put it on the turntable in the morning with the sun coming up, and the same goes for Devotion+ Doubt. It's a middle of the night record, for when the lights are turned low, and conversations are held in whispers."
A Masterpiece of Minimalistic Country
firstname.lastname@example.org | 08/06/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Richard Buckner's second album came my way by my boss, who played this album constantly for several days and then forgot about it. He'd seen Buckner in Chicago and was impressed, then bought the album ... and wasn't so impressed. I, on the other hand, felt as though I had read "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" again for the first time. I was hooked. After purchasing it, and giving it a good, and louder, listening to, I came to cherish it as no other album in recent years. It kind of fits into "alt country", though, if that's your genre of choice, better to try his first, and less daring, first album "Bloomed". But if what you're looking for is a daring and intelligent album, with rewarding lyrics that haunt you long after you hear the song, and melodies you could have sworn you heard in a distant memory, this is the album for you. I agree with the other reviewers that this is a "late night/early morning" album - it's am! bient, quiet, torturously maudlin - but like most sad sounds, it is haunting, beautiful and spiritually fulfilling as well. Rarely have I given such accolades for an album in entirety - but the force of this album relies on its listening as a whole, as a process, as chapters in a book. It was almost as if Raymond Carver had decided to enter the music business. Highly suggested, especially the incredibly brilliant "On Traveling" and "Song of 27", the closing numbers. Like a journal kept during a romantic heartbreak, its hard to begin, even harder to stop listening. I heard that this was Buckner's personal recording of the album, that the mass release edition had been confused, and this was released instead. Usually, I wouldn't believe such a statement, in this case, however, I do. Five stars is not enough."
Unforgettable -- Rare, real, transcendent late-night music
D. Darby | Seattle, WA | 08/17/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of the few pieces of authentic music created during my lifetime.
I cannot recommend this cd more highly. Not sickly-sweet or sacharine, with no air of marketing about him, yet full of the soul that leads one to reach for the volume and turn to "11" -- he has created here a small, resonant album as near perfection as any I have heard.
Buckner is a musician who will appeal to a small sub-set of Americans.hose who enjoy Tom Waits, Jane Siberry, or have read Charles Bukowski will probably hear this CD as if meeting a friend for the first time. I can think of perhaps 5 CDs in any genre that deserve 5 stars -- this is one."
No Lie: One of the best albums of all time
singmebackhome | Macon, GA | 01/07/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I like all the heavy hitters: Neil Young, Dylan, Springsteen, Joni, Beatles, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, etc. They've all made records that are in the canon of all-time classics. Desert Island Discs, whatever you want to call them...you have your own list.This album, Devotion + Doubt, is in that class. This is no lie, no hyperbole, no puffing up some sorta half-deserving underdog record. This is the real deal. I remember when I first heard this record, I was going over to a friend's house to write some songs. I walked into his house and put my guitar down, ready to get to work. My buddy was just getting in from work and said he'd be ready in a few minutes, but listen to this "new record I just got." He put in Devotion + Doubt.From the first evocation of "Pull," I knew there would be no songwriting done that night. There was nothing I was capable of saying musically that day that could possibly approach the feeling and vibe I was getting right then and there; it was tangible, almost like I could reach out and touch it. Then "Lil Wallet Picture" and it my fate was sealed. Guitar goes back in the case, I mutter "you ain't comin' out for awhile." Buckner stopped me cold. Hallelujah! How often do you get hit by art like this? Not often enough....Read up and down this amazon.com comment board, you'll see that I'm not alone. If you enjoy honest and unique singer/songwriter style music, give this a shot. I honestly claim it is one of the finest records of all time."