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+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
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+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
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+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
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+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
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Richard Buckner
Dents And Shells

The defining quote of Richard Buckner's early days, as woebegone country songsmith, was this slogan he happily repeated: "Why do people go to auto races? They want to see a good wreck." Scattering the shattered fragments of his broken heart, rending his ventricles apart, and laying all his insides out, Buckner's first forays into recording were car-crash love songs; his debut longplayer, 1995's Bloomed, juxtaposed the mingled limbs of lovers with the wreckage of his own marriage. When he followed it up with the astonishing Devotion + Doubt in 1997, Buckner was widely hailed as the blood-and-guts troubadour adding heart-and-soul to the nascent no-depression movement of the alt-country day. Yet, the years since haven't been so kind, finding Buckner making a mess of messy records, never coming close to recapturing the same glories that he did in his early days, from the overly-considered, rockist tones of 1998's Since, to the strange curio of 2000's concept record The Hill, to the dense home-made multi-trackings of 2002's Impasse. Over the years, Buckner's woeful persona has gone from heartbroken to curmudgeonly, the churlish songsmith now a grizzled give-a-shit figure who's lost any and all of the romanticism he once used to be able to funnel into his music.

Dents and Shells might be Buckner's most clean, straightforward delivery since Devotion + Doubt, but it's not quite time to proclaim the career renaissance just yet. Recorded in Calexico's home digs in Tucson, Arizona, the record finds Buckner getting out of his own head for the first time in years, presiding over a band who treat his songs with sensitivity, coloring drums and guitars and analog organs around the driving strums and gravelly croons fore'er at the center. Songwise, Buckner tries to straighten up by keeping things short and sweet — the disc totals 10 tracks and 35 minutes — but he's still essentially wandering his way through intuitive tunes. Having long forsaken standard forms of verse and chorus, or even hook and line, here he sets his increasingly syntactic lyrics — which, as with Impasse, are (re-)printed in very specific, poetic form on the artwork, suggesting that they come first with the pen — to a set of tunes blessed with melody but hardly immediately memorable. Such songs tend to be most striking when he reduces, not just in length but in rhythm and delivery; the back-to-back pairing of single-idea songs "Rafters" (two-fifty of highway driving and relationship-angst-in-obtuse-imagery) and "Picture Day" (two minutes of mandolin strumming and the most melodious vocal on the album) shows the album in its best shades.

by Anthony Carew

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