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Disc of the week: Buckner’s return brings a beautiful record

Our Blood, according to the great American singer-songwriter Richard Buckner, is about being captured, "armed with some barbed momentary reasoning that won't let you go." If there is a story, he says, "it will end where it began and then keep going, free to stop, but never knowing why it should."

Where Buckner says capture, I might say escape, which is the title of the second track on this sparse, beautiful record – his first since 2006's Meadow. There is a back story to Buckner's disappearance, which I'll get to, later.

Escape is strummed on nylon strings, backed discreetly by a Wurlitzer organ. Buckner's voice is as we left it, warm and manoeuvrable, with phrasing that is poetic and unique: "The threads hang down; pull one out, the world falls away, chased and caught begging to be found far from home, bound to where we've been out of sight, fallen as we run."

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The need to run, and to emotionally flush out ourselves, that's what Buckner is on about. How far we get and the paths we take are the questions; only small windows of opportunity are available.

A lot of drama happened to Buckner in the past five years, involving a headless corpse in a trunk of a car, found by police near where the literate troubadour was living in upstate New York. Buckner was questioned, then exonerated, probably warily.

A movie soundtrack was being worked on, but it never fully developed. After that, his tape machine broke down, taking patches of recorded material with it. Later a laptop, with song notes and some of the remaining music, was taken from Buckner's burglarized home.

"Give it back," he requests on Thief, "broken-in and stolen from the mourning, counted out." The chilly, reverberating synthesizer effect, not one I would normally attach to Buckner, adds to the album's tension. There's more nylon guitar and Wurlitzer here as well.

It's hard to know how much the album was shaped by its troubled making. Song titles suggest an anxious flight: Collusion, Ponder, Witness, Confession, Hindsight.

Fans of Gord Downie and Gillian Welch might like this recording. Confession, in an acoustic vibe of Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, is airy and thoughtful – "When there's no place to hide from what we've done, then, will you come home run-aground?"

The answer is yes. Escape, while it is in our blood, is confused and futile; nothing we steal on the way can be kept anyway.

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We can hide, but not run. Buckner is back – it was only a matter of time.

Our Blood

  • Richard Buckner
  • Merge

More new disc releases


Bela Bartok, Richard Strauss, Edvard Grieg: Violin Sonatas

  • Vilde Frang, violin
  • Michail Lifits, piano
  • EMI Classics
  • ****

When Bartok presented Yehudi Menuhin with his solo violin sonata, Menuhin deemed it almost unplayable. Sixty years and two generations later, it is anything but that, especially in the hands of the young Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang, who scooped up a number of awards after her debut EMI recording of the Prokofiev and Sibelius concertos. Frang plays with astounding precision, clarity and tonal nuance, her every choice contributing to the comprehensibility – and potency – of this demanding modernist score. But Vilde is as remarkable in Strauss. There is more expressive information in the first few phrases of her interpretation of the Sonata in E flat than many performers find in the whole piece. Every gesture speaks – including an extremely supple and organic rubato that is never gratuitous. Elissa Poole

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The Reflection

  • Keb Mo
  • Warner
  • **

What's so wrong, Keb Mo, with niche? Niche is good; niche pays the bills. The wide-grinning, NPR-approved bluesman has apparently looked into the mirror, with the reflection revealing a smooth (and sometimes jazzy) R&B-pop stylist. The man's new look, as heard on his blandly thoughtful disc The Reflection, is a mix of life-coaching, bass-poppin', note-perfect, adult-y dinner-party music. All the Way nods amiably to Al Green and the title track is agreeable, but We Don't Need It is shamelessly over-sweet, and an ironic cover of the Eagles' One of These Nights is the opposite of full-moon-callings and fevers that are hot. Never as has Mo sounded so much like less; the phrase "upon further reflection" comes crisply to mind. Brad Wheeler


The Place I Left Behind

  • The Deep Dark Woods
  • Six Shooter
  • ***

Building on 2009's sombre Winter Hours, the bearded Saskatoon roots quintet the Deep Dark Woods makes an evocative record about rambling and lonesomeness, but with fiddles, harmonies and purring Hammond tones that are homey and hearth-warm. The title track has a Lincoln-era melody to it, Sugar Mama is a two-stepping reaction to the blues, Mary's Gone weeps to a steel-guitar memory and the battle- story The Banks of the Leopold Canal is a leather coat once worn by Robbie Robertson. The guitarist Burke Barlow plays only when he has something to say, giving floors to singer-lyricist Ryan Boldt, a mournful tenor. I hear Blue Rodeo now and again, but where that band sang "It hasn't hit me yet," Boldt sounds like he's been hit alright, all right, hard, full and regularly. We all leave places behind, but we really don't, not completely. B.W.

The Deep Dark Woods play the Edmonton Folk Music Festival this weekend.


How I Go

  • The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
  • Roadrunner
  • ** 1/2

A gifted guitarist with a likeably gruff, expressive voice, Kenny Wayne Shepherd fits well within the tradition of Jimi Hendrix, Billy Gibbons and Stevie Ray Vaughan. He's also pretty adept at sounding like them. It helps that his working band includes Vaughan's old rhythm section, bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton, and he does a pretty good SRV impression on John Lennon's Yer Blues. There's also a lot of Hendrix in Oh, Pretty Woman, and a good Gibbons impression on Never Lookin' Back. But there's such joy and backbeat-driven vitality in the playing that it's hard to begrudge Shepherd his borrowings. It's just how he goes.

J.D. Considine

Editor's note: How I Go was incorrectly categorized in the original version of this article. This version has been corrected.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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