[29 April 2014]
Back in the days when I was higher of hair and considerably more prodigious of sideburn, there was much buzz around my fair New York City when Son Volt came through town behind their debut Trace. Rightfully so, but as the date drew closer word came down through the pre-Internet nerd channels that the opener on the show was not to be missed. The year was 1995 and said opener was one Richard Buckner, a Bay Area transplant on his first U.S. tour with a crew of Texas heavy hitters backing him. Electrifying is a word often bandied about recklessly, but Buckner’s performance proved to be just that, albeit in slightly ironic fashion given the mostly acoustic instrumentation that night. I’m pretty sure Jay Dee Maness was in the band and the Irving Plaza crowd was gobsmacked to a one by the time the set came to a close.
Calls were made and record store guys duly consulted, revealing that the songs from that Irving Plaza set comprised a Buckner record called Bloomed. Initially released in Europe on Glitterhouse, then here in the States through DejaDisc, the Bloomed of the early nineties consisted of a dozen near-perfect tracks Buckner had refined initially busking the streets of San Francisco and later retrofitted into full band versions fronting a Bay Area collective of oddballs known as the Doubters. The Doubters never made it out of Frisco, but an early ‘90s guerrilla run by Buckner to SXSW led to a fortuitous meeting with steel titan (and Dixie Chick dad) Lloyd Maines at a Butch Hancock curated songwriter circle.
Buckner left Austin untroubled by record weasels, but with an invitation to return to Texas later that year and record with Maines in Lubbock. There, in a tiny Hub City studio, backed by a Spartan but deadly crew that lacked drums but did include heavy hitters like Maines, Butch Hancock, and Ponty Bone, Bloomed came to life. Buckner left Texas four days later with a murderers row of tunes that, even two decades on, continue to top the ranks of the best of his auspicious canon. Acoustic save for the odd wash of pedal steel, the deft songcraft is evident from the first strum of the opening Blue And Wonder. Perennials like Gauzy Dress in the Sun and Surprise, AZ made their recorded debut here as well, catapulting Bloomed to the top of many a critic’s list at year’s end.
Merge has been a safe harbor for contemporary Richard Buckner fare in recent years, but the reissue of Bloomed marks their first foray into the Buckner back catalog. Here’s hoping it’s not the last. The Merge set is the first to remaster the songs and is technically a re-reissue, adding a second disc with the five recorded tracks from the Rykodisc reissue a few years back and adding a handful of live and demo tracks from the era for good measure. Vinyl nerds can now get their fix as well, although I expect the bonus fare will remain digitally delivered. Regardless of the way you choose to introduce Richard Buckner and Bloomed into your life, discriminating musical gourmandisers should snap this up with the quickness.