Richard Buckner-Devotion and Doubt
May 26, 2010
Devotion and Doubt(Fontana/MCA 1997)
Yeah, anyone can sing a sad song, but some folks are so bruised that theirs wrap their arms around you and suck every ounce of empathy and rapport one can have with lyrics and a chorus. Ultimately, this is a subjective crapshoot since I once found the Ink Spots to be the saddest outfit in the known universe while others may sink to the bottom of their well whenever muzak plays in the elevator. Therefore, the following sentiments will most likely be tacked onto any number of albums in my future, but something keeps me coming back to Richard Buckner’s Devotion and Doubt these days. It’s like watching a disaster occurring in slow-motion on a static-ridden television.
Sadly, it was released during a time when the world hatched a genre called alt-country and a flock of earnest souls channeled their favorite country singers through the prism of indie-rock, punk and folk. To be honest, I still love Neko Case, Robbie Fulks and the first Ryan Adams album, but those are momentary passions that fall fainter by the year. However, the voice of Richard Buckner never fails me. Sometimes the instrumentation plays it safe, but he always suckers me in when spins a yarn about lost chances and grievous errors. Devotion and Doubt is full of these, and his romanticism about slowly spinning down the drain is kind of spell-binding.
The opening lines of “Roll” speak volumes about his mindset as he sings “We can rent a car tomorrow/and roll through all the thoughts we keep/but we’ll just end up disheveled/and and acting like we both don’t know/but as I go down please take care.” It is a celebration of bad decisions, yet he captures the tragedy to be found in one who embraces and woos the error of his or her ways. “4 am” adds to the hubris as it opens with Buckner singing “It’s a bruised and fallen sky/pressed all up against us/and its just as true far away/but I can be there by breakfast/if I just drive through to you/so as the past goes breaking by/where are you tonight?” There is an element of optimism and good intention, but it is balanced then toppled by a sense of abandon and a revelation that this ain’t going to be good for anyone when all is said and done. Then again, Devotion and Doubt chronicles his divorce from his wife, so these things are to be expected.
In short, he continues the legacy of his Lubbox, Texas idols: Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Terry Allen and their spiritual neighbor Townes Van Zandt, but does so with bit more brooding, spit and polish. It is a meditation on accepting the last gasps of love and the awkward things we do to maintain a flame that has died a premature death.