Searching for the perfect accompaniment to a late-night jaunt through barren dust planes, burning prairie land, and the razed rubble of once-great empires? Look no further than Our Blood. Richard Buckner’s newest set of scorched-earth slow jams sounds like it could have done for Cormac McCarthy’s The Road what Daft Punk did for Tron: Legacy. There’s a remarkable sense of stylistic continuity in the record that identifies Buckner as a good soundtrack candidate, and this readily recognizable quality is partially responsible for the 4-year lacuna of new material in his otherwise prolific career.
The urgency you're bound to hear in Richard Buckner's voice throughout Our Blood isn't accidental. Though he's released an album every year or two during his two-decade career, Our Blood is his first since 2006's Meadow. Because that extended interim wasn't intentional, it was, as you might imagine, extremely frustrating. After Meadow, Buckner stopped writing records to focus on a score for a movie that was never released; after moving to upstate New York, he worked shifts holding signs for Con Edison construction crews and assisting the Census Bureau before turning his focus back toward a proper LP.
No matter the medium of expression, songwriter Richard Buckner has been stubbornly mining the same vein his entire career, a Sisyphian struggle that delights his fans. Even on The Hill -- where he set poems from the Spoon River Anthology to music -- Buckner has looked incessantly at loneliness, betrayal, loss, displacement, yearning, and ennui to inform his lyric vision. What it all leads to is an impressive, stubborn, dark body of work that looks deeply into the interiority and detail of human interaction.
Our Blood is one of those records with a crazy back story, one of those things that took travelling a rough road to create. Richard Buckner was, at one point, watched pretty closely by the law in his hometown in upstate New York after some event with a headless corpse in a burned-out car and Buckner’s own beat-up truck. Then, less dramatically, his tape machine died with some new material on it.
I first discovered Richard Buckner as Son Volt’s opener around the time of Straightaways. Standing alone with a keyboard on a big, dark stage, Buckner seemed perhaps the only person capable of out-bleaking that era’s Farrar, and while the performance was undeniably affecting, it was an ash-stiff whiskey or hostile-strong coffee-grade acquired taste. Some miles later, Buckner’s dark night of the soul seems to have gotten more accessible.
Enigmatic singer-songwriter Richard Buckner has been highly acclaimed but chiefly a cult phenomenon since his 1994 debut, Bloomed. Our Blood is the first album from Buckner in five years, and the story behind its series of delays is as intriguing as it is unfortunate. Scoring a film that never came to pass? It happened. After that, Our Blood recordings were lost due to faulty equipment and later a stolen laptop.
The rut Richard Buckner has dug himself is exquisite. Our Blood, the innovative singer-songwriter and former local's first disc in five years, develops a sound sculpted around heavily strummed guitar and old keyboards, adding odd percussion by Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley and atmospheric pedal steel from Buddy Cage of the New Riders of the Purple Sage. Sung with a hint of resignation and/or repressed fury, songs like organ-grinder "Thief" and the sun-streaked yet foreboding "Hindsight" update Buckner's gnarly catalog, all dense poetry, winding melodies, and a dapple of bemused hopelessness.
Richard Buckner, remaining free of the overt country stylings he became known for, is out with more somewhat brooding folk music — but for all the good moments, Our Blood doesn’t hit many heights at all. I so desperately wanted to love Our Blood, but there’s something missing: Genuine excitement and interest. There’s nothing particularly enthralling about the way these elements have been combined, and while there’s been plenty of attention to detail by Buckner, there’s a dreary quality that gets, well, old — and quick.