Alt-country’s favorite son: Richard Buckner plays The Mill

Richard Buckner
Buckner is signed with the North Carolina-based indie label Merge Records. — photo by Phoebe West

Richard Buckner w/ Jason T. Lewis

The Mill — Saturday, July 19 at 9 p.m. ($12-15)

Artful, inspired lyrics have set Richard Buckner apart as a singer-songwriter going as far back as his first self-produced collection in the mid-1990’s, Bloomed, an album which remains in release to this day. Buckner’s heartfelt lyrics lend his songs the emotional complexity of a well-made short story or lyric poem. Consider this 2008 solo electric performance of “Blue and Wonder” from Bloomed and how it’s able to convey the unflinching intimacy and heartbreak of love with the simple but raw lines like “What’s that word I forget sometimes?” and “There’s things even drunks like us will never forget.”

Buckner’s brand of alt-country spans a wide range of styles from intimate guitar and piano accompaniment to densely textured, plugged-in sounds, the kind you might mistake for a Radiohead tune if you were to hear it in passing. Sometimes Buckner spans this acoustic-electric divide in a single song, such as with his cover of the Cars’ “Candy-O,” which opens up and closes in a bed of thick, distorted guitar while the body of the song is anchored in an expertly-played acoustic guitar set off against subtle elements of vocal and instrumental texturing. Buckner’s July 19 stop at The Mill is billed as a solo electric performance, and given the attention to detail shown in his recorded work, he is no doubt giving careful thought to the guitars, pedals, and amps he will employ to bring his songs to his live audience.

Buckner cites Townes Van Zandt as an early mentor, and there is no denying his firm alt-country roots, yet he is by no means an artist hemmed in by established musical categories. His 1997 album Devotion + Doubt features creative collaborations with members of the established alternative country act Giant Sand right alongside the likes of Marc Ribot, a guitarist best known for his contributions to experimental jazz and rock. Like his collaborations, Bucker’s influence is also far-reaching. In a 2011 interview with Pitchfork, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) expresses a deep admiration for how Buckner, through his delivery, can imbue his lyrics with so much meaning without saying much of anything at all.

A songwriter and wordsmith with talents as well wrought as Buckner’s deserves to be experienced live, so make sure not to miss out on his performance at The Mill on July 19.


  1. I had not heard of Richard Buckner but after reading this insightful review I will definitely give him a listen.

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