Richard Buckner, Cameron McGill | Schubas | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader

Richard Buckner, Cameron McGill Early Warnings (Music) Soundboard

When: Fri., July 29, 10 p.m. 2011

Richard Buckner's bruised and breathy singing, irregular phrasing, and cavalier relationship with written melody can make his music a challenge, and on his first album in five years he doesn't have a band behind him to force him to toe the line. To make Our Blood, due from Merge on Tuesday, Buckner overdubbed acoustic and electric guitars, drums, keyboards, vibes, and his own harmony singing—steel-guitar whiz Buddy Cage makes three cameos and Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley plays maracas on another song—but the result isn't solipsistic self-indulgence but rather what might be his most economical album since his 1994 debut, Bloomed. He wraps his pretty postfolk melodies in atmospheres both raw and elegant, and even when he keeps his mouth shut (as on the gorgeously pensive "Ponder"), his music's balance of cinematic grandeur and stark efficiency conveys his melodic gifts masterfully. Though his lyrics don't sound too cryptic line by line, it's usually hard to extract a clear meaning from a whole song—they're enough to start you thinking, but you can't be sure where to stop. Still, he just gets better and better at making his lines sound good musically, and sometimes a powerful message comes through almost in spite of itself. On "Confession" he lays bare his scorched-earth romanticism, singing, "I guess I'm the one they warned you about"—he knows he's trouble, he seems to be saying, but so is everybody. Onstage Buckner has always been less focused than on record, preferring a more spontaneous approach that can border on the crude, and I can't image that will change with Our Blood. Few artists are as willing as Buckner to fall so flat while reaching so high. Peter Margasak

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