Bloomed, Richard Buckner’s astonishing 1994 debut, quickly placed the San Francisco singer-songwriter in a league with highly literate Texas country and folk greats like Butch Hancock, Townes Van Zandt, and Guy Clark. But as anyone who has seen him live can testify, Buckner is clearly dogged by a far more restless muse than his predecessors. Artists like Bob Dylan and Will Oldham may completely revamp their tunes each time they tour, but Buckner tweaks his phrasing and intonation nightly. Like a jazz singer, he never seems to do a tune the same way twice, changing the placement of accents and the volume and clarity of his articulation according to what each song means to him at that moment. With instrumental support from Tucson’s Giant Sand (possibly the world’s first roots-rock improv band), his recent follow-up, Devotion + Doubt (MCA), comes as close as a record can to capturing that knack for keeping audiences on their toes. In a voice that brings to mind Dwight Yoakam without the nasal twang, Buckner can convey the deepest emotion with the smallest gesture–whether on the stark “Fater,” his a cappella stab at a mountain death song, or the exceedingly delicate “4 AM,” which breathes new life into the I’m-on-the-road-and-I-miss-you form. His idiosyncrasies, along with his recent shift from straight narratives to elliptical, fragmented poetics, almost guarantee that he’ll never have a huge following, but that means we can keep seeing him in intimate settings like these. Saturday, 4 PM, Borders Books & Music, 2817 N. Clark, 773-935-3909; and 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Richard Buckner by Tim Stedman.