On his last release, Since, Richard Buckner turned out one sad-sack story after another, chronicling the narrator’s pathetic romantic fumblings. The lyrics on his new album, The Hill (Overcoat), are a dramatic improvement, but unfortunately Buckner didn’t write them: each of the 19 tracks is named after a poem from Edgar Lee Masters’s 1915 classic Spoon River Anthology, a collection of 244 monologues delivered from beyond the grave by citizens of fictional Spoon River, Illinois. Buckner alternates between instrumentals that evoke the emotional tone of their namesake poems and songs that quote from the verse; the album opens with the brief, dreary organ drone of “Mrs. Merritt,” named for a character who was jailed for complicity in her young lover’s murder of her husband, while the following track, “Tom Merritt,” allows the dead husband to explain how his suspicions and his own murderous impulses eventually led to his demise. The characters’ grim circumstances jibe with Buckner’s usual subject matter, but the singer would do well to study the precision and restraint of the Masters poems. The Tucson duo Calexico, who supported Buckner on his MCA debut, Devotion + Doubt, are back again, and Buckner’s melodies and song structures cover the same turf as his older work, from the a cappella mountain death song “Ollie McGee” to the marble-mouthed tunefulness of “Julia Miller.” Yet Buckner’s emotional commitment to the poems makes the album sound surprisingly fresh. For this gig he and string instrumentalist Eric Heywood will perform The Hill in its entirety and then dip into Buckner’s back catalog. Thursday, September 28, 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Clark.