Richard Buckner: Bloomed (Merge Records)

A long time ago, in my first year at Texas Tech University, I had a conversation with a man at a bar. He said he was working on a new record. He described the process as a tedious yet fun endeavor, but he wasn’t from Lubbock and he was ready to go back home. He said his name was Richard Buckner, and after our brief, slightly inebriated conversation about Lubbock sucking, we went our separate ways. I told him I’d look out for his record, and then promptly forgot to do so. Though I didn’t hear it until a few years later, that process that was both frustrating and fun for him was the recording of Bloomed, a fine, beautiful, impressive debut album that blends folk, country, and singer-songwriter styling.

If there’s one thing striking about Richard Buckner’s style, it’s his voice. Powerful yet sensitive, it’s deceptively simple, and he has the power to bring beauty to harsh, hard stories, and has the ability to bring darkness and spite on what appear to be love songs. His arrangements are stripped-down, often just him and his guitar, thanks to producer and pedal steel legend Lloyd Maines, with the occasional help from other highly respected Lubbock-based sidemen Ponty Bone on accordion and Lanny Fiel on fiddle.  Of course, when you’ve written powerful narrative songs like “Gauzy Dress In The Sun,” “Mud,” and “Cradle to the Angel,” you really don’t need anything more than the most basic arrangements. Buckner writes with a poet’s heart and a reprobate’s penitence.

Bloomed was released in 1994 to critical acclaim but minimal sales and exposure, but based on that, Buckner would move on to a brief tenure as a major label artist. During that tenure, the album would be reissued with five outtakes added, all of which have been added to the second disc of Merge’s anniversary reissue, and all are fine additions, especially “Emma” and “The Last Ride.” This bonus disc adds a half-dozen more songs; three live numbers, excellent demos of “Surprise, AZ,” and “Blue and Wonder,” as well as new song, “Still Looking for You.”

Bloomed was an auspicious debut album, and Buckner would easily build upon this simple, low-key debut album’s formula, in the process becoming one of America’s great—albeit underrated—singer/songwriters. It’s good to have it in print, and expanded with more evidence of Buckner’s greatness.

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