A Meadow Grows In Brooklyn

Richard Buckner

Still life with lamp, sofa, Richard Buckner: His new album is about the “ethereal meadow in my mind.”

Drive by the bodegas on Flatbush Avenue, exit the Canarsie Line subway at Broadway Junction, or walk through the factories-turned-lofts in Williamsburg, and the borough of Brooklyn just isn’t the sort of place you associate with meadows (Prospect Park notwithstanding). Yet that’s precisely where Richard Buckner found his.

We’re not just speaking metaphorically; Meadow is the title of the 8th full-length release from the itinerant singer-songwriter, and its creation is intrinsically linked to Buckner’s move to Brooklyn two-plus years ago. Recorded largely in his apartment studio and an old pencil factory with musicians either based in New York or passing through, Buckner wanted his record’s name to reflect the sense of possibility that tied together the songs he’d written since arriving in Brooklyn.

“I had this weird image, not of a physical meadow, but an ethereal meadow in my mind,” the voluble Buckner says. “I was in a place where things kind of opened up for me. I don’t know how extreme lifestyles go with other people, but sometimes you’re crazy, sometimes you’re sane, sometimes you’re an alcoholic, sometimes you’re straight — things change in your life, and the records usually document those changes.”

In that sense Meadow represents an emotional shift from Buckner’s recent records, and a return to some of the sonic touchstones of his earlier material, especially 1998’s Since, the last time Buckner worked with Meadow producer JD Foster. The new record is brighter and more urgent than 2004’s somber-sounding Dents & Shells, which was recorded in Austin where Buckner was living what might be euphemistically referred to as the rock & roll life, albeit on a tighter budget. The new record’s underlying conceit comes into even sharper focus when contrasted with 2002’s Impasse, which Buckner recorded alone in a Vancouver basement during the Canadian winter while his marriage disintegrated.

“A small crack in a window would have seemed like a meadow back then,” Buckner laughs, exhaling a palpable sense of relief.

Sometimes known as “The Borough of Homes and Churches,” Brooklyn provided Buckner with sanctuary, especially artistically. With a home studio, he was able to lay down ideas and demo tracks whenever the muse called without worrying about a “studio clock ticking” and “money flying out the window.” Rather than produce the record himself, as he’d done with his last three efforts, he turned to Foster, who also produced Buckner’s Devotion & Doubt.

“I really wanted to put it in someone else’s hands who would make it something different than what I would do on my own,” Buckner says. “I knew JD would not only do that, but do things that I would have to trust and not always understand, which I like doing sometimes.”

Foster’s fabled way with a song leaves an indelible mark on Meadow. The music pulses with energy, the rockers and quieter numbers wrapped equally in warm sonic textures that always anticipate when your ear craves a crescendo or paring back. Ex-Guided by Voices guitarist Doug Gillard adds glissandos, curlicue runs and crashing chords – what Buckner calls “Gillard-isms” — while keyboards played by Buckner and Rob Burger (Tin Hat Trio) flesh out the layered sound. Powering the whole enterprise with piston-like precision are Foster’s bass and drummers Stephen Goulding (The Mekons) and Kevin March (Guided By Voices).

But front-and-center is Buckner’s voice — a husky slur and bellow that pleads or proclaims with equal fervor. He sounds so rejuvenated on Meadow that it’s only in hindsight that you realize how tired or subdued he sounded on Dents & Shells. Foster recorded the vocal tracks in the hallway of his apartment, and it sounds like Buckner’s sitting in your hallway belting out these transformative songs.

Together all these elements suffuse the record with a tangible grace, the kind that comes when everyday dross recedes into the background where it belongs, and the present takes on tactile immediacy.

“Man, I was high, stepping out on goodbyes unspoken,” Buckner chides his old self on the song “Before,” adding, “and once and a while I’d stumble out into the open, a meadow rise to spend all your time with.”

“You always hope that the next time you work on a project it won’t just be, ‘here we go again,'” Buckner says. “You want to walk away at the end with some new insight or new way of doing things that make you happy with your craft.”

[John Schacht is a contributing music writer at Harp magazine and Allmusic.com]

Richard Buckner (with Doug Gillard) plays the Grey Eagle (185 Clingman Ave.) on Saturday, Sept. 23, with Eric Bachmann and Barton Carroll opening. 9 p.m. $10/$12. 232-5800.

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