Dents and Shells
n Dents and Shells, Richard Buckner's sixth album, he continues doing what he does best—creating misleadingly simple songs on the borderline of country and folk. Buckner's interests move more toward atmosphere than concrete content, yet he never veers off too far into inscrutability or vagaries. With his husky voice and traditional arrangements, he produces music to sip bourbon to after you come home from a slightly depressing night of fun.
The album opens with a sense of openness,a desert road trip, but there’s uncertainty: "Isn't something calling / Coming as you go? / Never and always / Missing the thrill." Buckner appears to put himself out there, but never fully. He sounds exposed, but lyrically he never gives it away. When his music offers Nashville (or rather Tuscon) heartbreak, his delivery supplies toughness, like a man who's hard from endurance rather than avoidance. That opening track, "A Chance Counsel," closes with the line, "I can pull away." Whatever he gives, he holds onto with one hand.
Buckner takes that same tack with his lyrics. He can take those memorable snapshots, but he keeps them unsteady and dreamlike by submerging them in murky waters. The line "I saw her sipping wine from a camping cup / On some missing night" being an incredible case in point. Here you have a precise and moving vision (and maybe I'm effected by having decided as a teenager that one of the few things that could beat camping would be camping with a lover, which was a hypothesis that lingered for a few years), but it changes direction drastically with its closing phrase, a “missing night.” Literal examinations—how is it missing if he saw it?—give way to emotional impact. However the night has reached its state, it must have been involved in a sort of a loss, memory being shackled by disappointment or new impossibility.
While Buckner's techniques and performances (aided on this album by a full backing band) are effective, he knows enough not to overindulge them. The album's brevity, 10 songs over 34 minutes, allows him to get in and out of your head before his consistency wears thin. Its unity keeps it solid, but it also keeps Dents and Shells free of surprises. In the end, this sounds like a Buckner disc, which means it's good, it works well, and you know what you're getting. While it's not groundbreaking, it goes well on the rocks.