Richard Buckner: “Beautiful Question”

Photo by Richard A. Smith

As a songwriter with a two-decade career, Richard Buckner has had his share of ups and downs. He’s worked with everyone from Texan session man Lloyd Maines to power-pop stalwarts Guided By Voices. But the valleys have been pretty extreme, too. His 2011 album Our Blood seemed cursed: Buckner re-recorded the record after his tape machine broke, then re-recorded it again after the digital files vanished with his stolen laptop. Bizarrely, he was also suspected of a grisly murder in upstate New York before police found the true culprit. Taken together, all these disasters left Buckner creatively and emotionally exhausted.

The spark eventually returned, and this time around, the songwriter decided to work quickly and with purpose. He surrounded himself with unfamiliar instruments–including an electronic autoharp–and finished songs without over-thinking. Buckner found a kindred spirit in Tucker Martine, a Grammy-nominated producer who’s teamed up with the likes of R.E.M., My Morning Jacket, Spoon, and the Decemberists. “Tucker understood the urgency in me to tie the whole thing up before I fell into the same trap that I’d had finishing Our Blood,” says Buckner.

The result is Surrounded, a somber collection of country-tinged songs that are shot through with a first-take intimacy. The simplicity, though, is accompanied by Buckner’s rich multi-tracked harmonies and Martine’s atmospheric touch. “Beautiful Question” is the sound of a man breathing a sigh of relief. The storms have blown over, and Buckner is back doing what he does best.

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