NPR logo First Listen: Richard Buckner, 'Our Blood'

First Listen: Richard Buckner, 'Our Blood'

Richard Buckner's new album, Our Blood, comes out August 2. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Courtesy of the artist

Richard Buckner's new album, Our Blood, comes out August 2.

Courtesy of the artist

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Nothing comes easy for Richard Buckner, whose career has found him stumbling over many of the music-industry pitfalls that so often befall the critically and cultishly adored. His three brilliant albums from the 1990s — Bloomed, Devotion + Doubt, and Since — announced him as a rising outlaw-country sleeper in the tradition of Townes Van Zandt. But the closest Buckner has come to widespread fame arrived with the highly unexpected placement of his bleak 1998 gem "Ariel Ramirez" in a series of Volkswagen commercials years after its release.

Mostly, though, Buckner has spent the last decade or so rattling around music's margins: He adapted Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology into a devastating, little-heard 2000 album called The Hill, then spent the next few years recording low-profile records to a small-but-loyal contingent of fans. Buckner has been mostly silent since 2006's Meadow, thanks to a remarkably unlucky stretch marked by canceled projects, a burgled laptop, busted equipment and a legal misunderstanding, but he's finally back with a suitably desolate new album called Our Blood.

The nine songs here provide an excellent crash course in Buckner's unlikely combination of gifts, most notably his ability to sound bone-tired and weather-beaten at the same time his songs shimmer agreeably. Even when it slows to a crawl, Our Blood is full of stealthy, subtle earworms — appropriate, given the stubborn resiliency of the immensely gifted artist who crafted them.

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