Richard Buckner has spent much of his career chafing at the "alt-country" label, but he doesn't have anybody to blame but himself: his 1994 debut, Bloomed, was produced by outlaw country legend Lloyd Maines, and the album seemed like a sincere homage to the likes of Gram Parsons and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. But since then, the singer-guitarist has approached the genre from an angle. Despite the sleepy twang in his voice and the foursquare simplicity of his acoustic strumming, he's no roots musician: his idea of a whiskey-soaked lament sounds like Gertrude Stein's poetry, his conception of a country arrangement can include a vibraphone or a moody synth, and his taste in collaborators runs from Howe Gelb to David Grubbs. This restlessness hasn't always made for good records: 1998's Since is more a collection of notions than a set of songs, and 2000's The Hill is a half-successful stab at setting Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology to music (and the CD isn't broken into tracks, which makes it difficult to listen to just the successful half). But Buckner has released at least two great discs: 1997's Devotion + Doubt and 2002's Impasse, both supremely powerful breakup albums that derive extra strength from their strangeness. By dismissing conventional song structures, he's gotten much farther than he could've honoring anybody else's legacy. Recently signed to Merge Records, Buckner will likely be road testing songs from Dents & Shells, slated for release in October. Winter Blanket opens. $12. Monday, May 31, 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Swider.