With Talkin' Honky Blues, prolific Nova Scotian rapper Buck 65 (AKA Rich Terfry), has dropped his seventh album in six years. Once affiliated with the equally fertile indie collective Anticon, Buck recently signed with Warner Canada which, in addition to reissuing his back catalog, released this record as well as last year's excellent Square (Warner Music Canada, 2002).
Much as Hollywood Records has taken a hands-off approach in its newly minted relationship with the Polyphonic Spree, Warner Canada has provided Buck the resources and, just as crucially, the autonomy to continue his run of unusual, literary (but never precious or pretentious), completely original hip-hop.
Since it exhibits far-reaching inspirations (Anais Nin, Charles Bukowski, King Tubby) it's almost unfair to collar Talkin' Honky Blues with the ever more constricting hip-hop tag. Buck certainly raps, albeit in a measured and raspy style (think Tom Waits), but his rhymes are pensive and the accompanying music, while beat-driven, is laced with plucky banjos, plaintive pianos, retro surf guitars and other sounds too analog to remain in step with mainstream hip-hop's shiny digital directive. (If you're going to make songs about imaginary worlds of bling-bling bullshit, the music might as well be conjured electronically, right?)
All of these unusual sonic elements serve Buck's accomplished writing, which always to flip the cliché keeps it real. At times, as when detailing his father's lonely meandering in the wake of his mother's death ("Roses and Bluejays") or weighing infidelity's aftermath ("Tired Out"), it's painful.
Unlike his other albums, which were more like collections of stories, delivered by a varied, vivid cast of characters, Talkin' Honky Blues is unified by its narrator and in its production this time provided by Buck and few associates who, together, call themselves "The Entity." The music they make is richer both gritty and polished than Buck's past sample-based and drum-machine-laced solo jobs. He has said, and I agree, that Talkin' Honky Blues is his most sonically sophisticated album.
It's a road record written when he was living in Paris, and the songs, like the infectious first single, "Wicked and Weird," with its rolling bass line, slide guitar, and surprisingly appropriate banjo, revel in things like the joy of the journey and the detritus in his beat-up ride:
"Driving with a yellow dog, I-95/ He's got a smile on his face and big shiny eyes/ Up at a decent hour, I never ate yet/ Got a little Johnny Cash on the old tape deck/ Nothing in the trunk but some baseball gloves, a pair of jumper cables and set of golf clubs/ Blanket on the backseat, we're in rough shape/ Sunroof held on with a bit of duct tape..."
If you subtract the 6 and the 5 and switch vowels, an "e" for a "u," you get the contemporary Buck may be closest to in both their spirit and willingness to explore. Imagine Beck writing lyrics like those on Sea Change (Geffen, 2002) when he was making more kinetic records like Odelay (Geffen, 1996) and you are in the ballpark of Talkin' Honky Blues.
Don't get me wrong, it's not all earnest and dark. But it is deep, throughout, and its layers are its greatest strength. Buck 65's past recordings were colorful swatches that, when pieced together, amounted to a blanket under which he remained hidden. Talkin' Honky Blues comprises shards, bare and direct, that combine to form a window apparently intended to reveal just who Buck 65 is, at least for now.
With Talkin' Honky Blues, Buck 65's ongoing musical chronicle and beguiling, fulfilling, roving carnival of a career has taken another vital turn.