It was 1998 when I first heard Richard Buckner, and I instantly was transfixed.
The record in question was Since, his MCA collaboration with stalwarts like Syd Straw and David Grubbs, and it was breathtaking stuff, alt-country (or post-country) at its finest — but also overflowing with engaging song-gems beyond the boundaries of the genre. (I’ve since gone on to follow and write about Buckner lovingly.) Buckner had a way with the acoustic guitar – at times tender, his strumming technique can call to mind drunkenly slurred speech – but his voice was one-of-a-kind, rusty and weather-worn and tragically heaven-brushed all at once.
On Thursday, I got the chance to see Buckner perform live here at Club Café in Pittsburgh and, even with steep expectations, he was gloriously in his element, and the show is, by far, one of the best I’ve experienced in recent memory.
Opener Adam Fitz did an admirable job – I enjoyed his take on Tom Waits’ “Hold On” – but the real star of the evening was Buckner. In front of a rapt crowd in a bar that couldn’t seat more than 20, he unreeled classics like “Lil’ Wallet Picture” and “Ariel Ramirez” (a must-listen personal favorite) and entranced us with an evening-long monologue about a down-and-out motel attached to a beer distributor in North Lima, Ohio. (And, of course, yes, poet Kenneth Patchen.)
Bearing days-old white scruff and long braids, Buckner looked the part of a traveler but his songs, which flowed effortlessly along with the whiskey, elicited more the pose of the knowing bard, his voice punctuated at the eyes and mouth with each syllable sung. Buckner might be a perennial underdog, always fighting for every ounce of recognition he can claim in lives both personal and professional, but, live, he was as transfixing as ever. The 1998 version of my self had a wondrous time. – Justin Vellucci, Swordfish, June 11, 2018