This is a strange, wholly original album, and it places Richard Buckner at the vanguard of, well, something, and it's entirely Buckner-esque. On The Hill Buckner sets to music passages from poet Edgar Lee Master's Spoon Ri... more »ver Anthology. On previous outings his lyrics were as powerfully rendered as poetry, so at first it seems odd that he would rely on another's words. But the way Buckner bites, chews, and swallows the round vowels and hard consonant stops of Master's Midwest narratives, the voices resonate with fresh import. The music is powerfully original as well. Buckner's arrangements are organic to the voices and poems. The music clangs and shudders like an old jalopy then settles into a hushed wind-like whisper, Buckner's deep voice finding melody in the ebb and flow of the language. Even stranger is that The Hill is one continuous track--there are sections and movements and suites and passages, but it all flows like one continuous story. Few albums are this complex, evocative, and stunning. The Hill is Buckner's tour de force. --Tod Nelson« less
This is a strange, wholly original album, and it places Richard Buckner at the vanguard of, well, something, and it's entirely Buckner-esque. On The Hill Buckner sets to music passages from poet Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River Anthology. On previous outings his lyrics were as powerfully rendered as poetry, so at first it seems odd that he would rely on another's words. But the way Buckner bites, chews, and swallows the round vowels and hard consonant stops of Master's Midwest narratives, the voices resonate with fresh import. The music is powerfully original as well. Buckner's arrangements are organic to the voices and poems. The music clangs and shudders like an old jalopy then settles into a hushed wind-like whisper, Buckner's deep voice finding melody in the ebb and flow of the language. Even stranger is that The Hill is one continuous track--there are sections and movements and suites and passages, but it all flows like one continuous story. Few albums are this complex, evocative, and stunning. The Hill is Buckner's tour de force. --Tod Nelson
"ultimately, this wil be the record that really sets Buckner apart from from his 'post-everything' troubadour peers. This album is a major work, quite unlike anything in the recent history of popular music. It may seem unlikey or odd that Buckner, acclaimed mainly for his lyrics, has decided to work from the words of another. He really only uses Edgar Lee Masters' text as a skeleton, though. This record belongs entirely to Buckner. The music he has composed for this is the most orginal and unsettling of his career. He melds basically every scrap of overheard blues, mountain ballads, and somber dirges you can imagine into a fractured but weirdly coherent soundscape. There are recurring musical themes and motifs over the course of its 1/2 playing time, but everything seems fresh, and appropriately dense and challenging. What we are dealing with is a honest-to-goodeness piece of Americana, soaked with whiskey, blood and wasted tears. Masters' tales of unfortunate drunks, wandering rounders, solitary hunters, wives, lovers and dreamers take on new life. Much of this life is owed to Buckner's awesomely afftected singing. Every nuance, every strangled note and quivering sigh helps us really feel the emotions woven deep into this complex cloth. His voice has honestly never sounded better, whether tender and longing, as in the closing few minutes, or simmering with rage and saddness as in the 'Oscar Hummel' section, he totally convinces the listener of every character. The production, once again, by JD Foster is minimal but splendid open, dark and deep. I give Foster, who is sort of a big shot producer, credit for sticking with Buckner despite his migration to a small label.Ultimately, it is impressive that an artist of 33 has crafted this towering work of pathos and intelligence. A project that, on paper, could flirt dangerously with pretension on disc comes across honestly and with resounding power. It does the text justice, but ultimately sails on its own steam. Obviously this was a labor of love, but the craftsmanship here is what elevates it. the choice to keep it short was a good one."
The Destination Is The Journey (or vice versa...)
Jonathan Bower | New York, NY United States | 10/13/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It might be that there's no better time to get a concept album out of your head then when you've been dropped by your major label. On every level, the resulting whole of Richard Buckner's "The Hill" seems to suggest "miserable failure," or "here's your walking papers bucko." (No pun intended.) However, "failure" only when held up to the vapid and glitz-happy eyes of most of the poor souls working in the Beastly All Powerful Music Industry Animal (or, The Highest Paid Temp Job In America). Quite simply, it's a difficult disc - and not one that would go down easy for the board members, the dj's, the advertisers, the office shmoes, the mail room, the impatient, the FM addict, the shiny and happy, the...you get the idea.The "only one song/single track listing" gripe that's going around is only the tip of what is quite a rather large and complex iceberg below the surface of this album. (The "Oh no! It's not Richard Buckner's trademark songs of love, loss, and heartache!" gripe proves petty and somewhat childish. There's always "next time" kids, and there are also his three other albums to hold you over until then...)As a songwriter Buckner constantly challenges his listeners (and probably himself) to dig deeper than the plethora of three minute wrap ups on love and loss available within reach everywhere else you might choose to look. His songs often begin mid-stream, with half thoughts and hard looks that rarely ever end resolved, choosing instead to end the same way they began: in transition. Like conversations, and the variant emotional roller coasters of our day to day struggles (mostly with love), he presents humans trying - FIGHTING - to remain human in their struggles - daring themselves not to sink, drown, or pretend their situations aren't really happening. So what if he borrowed from a literary classic (Masters' "Spoon River Anthologies") to convey these things to us in a new light! He is by no means the first musician to use literature in one's songwork. (I have no time to write an exhaustive Index.) I can recall becoming so excited and influenced by literature in college, and by what it seemed to reveal to me, for me, that I came to rely on it for songwriting material for band practice every week. He kicks my noble efforts in the tush. That Buckner - a reputable lyricist, vocalist, and musician in his own right - felt something from someone else's work, and wanted to convey that to his audience goes to his credit. What is he asking us to consider given that he's sharing this work with us? How is it related to what else he's presented to us already? These aren't artsy attempts at justifying a piece that needs justifying, they're merely the excited ramblings of someone hanging on the voice, mood, and tone of the pieces littering "The Hill" from top to bottom, from journey's beginning to end.In a very short time I've come to trust Richard Buckner with putting my time (and money) on his works, simply due to the care and integrity he carries to his music. The impetus that led me to him was my own failed mess of a love story, and a friend who taped me two of his albums for coping purposes. When I listened, I knew that I had something that was meeting me where I was, someone who had been in the refuse I had taken up a residence in. (I'll be the first to admit that I'm showing up late to the Buckner fanbase/fanfare...You can count the months I've been a fan of his on one hand and still have three fingers left over...) While you might not be on "The Hill" with him the moment you listen - don't give up. Pace yourself. Listen. Look around. There's something going on here. It's a hard go, but in the end it's all worth the effort."
Richard Buckner Visits Spoon River
Kevin Macy | Manhattan, KS United States | 10/04/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The new Richard Buckner album 'The Hill' is a departure from his previous three; instead of writing the lyrics and music, Buckner set poems from Edgar Lee Masters' classic 'Spoon River Anthology' to music (and in some cases composed instrumental pieces inspired by the Spoon River poems). I had heard of the book but had never read it, so I picked up it and the CD both today. While I miss Buckner's lyrics, the fragmented phrases almost in code that I don't always comprehend but do always enjoy, the melancholy that runs through most of his work is amplified here; for each of Masters' poems is the voice of one of Spoon River's dead, buried on the Hill, encapsulating their life and how they met their fate. The music and Buckner's voice are enthralling. I leave him with four stars based on half-a-dozen listens today but I wouldn't be surprised if it grows to a five-star album with time."
My unreserved endorsement
Tarheel | Carrboro, NC, USA | 06/03/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The music and singing fit the words perfectly, and although you can pick out the individual characters represented in this continuous track, it also works well as a stream of consciousness about the complexity and tragedy of "ordinary" lives. In a culture where celebrity is confused with substance and product masquerades as art, Richard Buckner and The Hill are the real deal. As far as reviewers' expectations and comparisons with past albums--after four decades of Dylan, I thought we had learned better than that."
Take A Trip To Spoon River
Todd W. Smith | Midway, KY | 11/07/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Richard Buckner has been both criticized and praised for making "The Hill". There are those who claim that this is hallow ground Buckner should not have ventured on. Others are less uptight and are willing to judge the work on the music and art itself. I fall into the latter category.
There are 244 poems in Edgar Lee Masters' "Spoon River Anthology". Buckner chooses 18 of the best for this album. It is all one track, but I concur with a previous reviewer who said that it is an easy listen. The music flows from song to segue, and segue to song. Each "song" or "segue" is based upon a poem from the anthologies. So each poem has original music to it.
The music throughout is maddeningly good, I might add. What strikes me about "The Hill", is the excellent production. There is nothing raw, half-baked, or unfinished about it. It's obvious that if Buckner was going to do this, he was going to do it right, with the utmost respect for the book.
The achievement here is the life Buckner has breathed into these poems. You can read the poems, feeling and understanding them. But the music here adds a whole new dimension. He sings in first person, just as the poems were written. Buckner has always had the ability to make you feel a song. It's only natural that he makes you feel these poems, too. It's hard not to sympathize with drunken "Oscar Hummel", who is trying to find his way home when the self-righteous A.D. Blood bludgeons him to death.
I must respond to a previous reviewer's bemoaning the fact that the lyrics are not included. If it concerns you that much, you can go to a bookstore and buy the book. I bought a copy at a used bookstore for 3 bucks or so. Reading it has introduced me to a classic piece of lit that I otherwise wouldn't have enjoyed. And that is why I don't understand those who criticize this project. Who knows how many will read the anthologies and become more enlightened and aware, because of "The Hill"?
For those who enjoy music and literature, I invite you to take a trip to Spoon River with Richard Buckner. You'll be better for it."