Becky Buller needs very little introduction anymore in the bluegrass world. Over the past five years or so, she has been a radio and awards show mainstay, racking up recognition for her fiddling, singing, songwriting, and more. Indeed, at the recent 2020 IBMA Awards, she took home two trophies – Song of the Year for penning Special Consensus’s Chicago Barn Dance, and Collaborative Recording of the Year for her own fiddle extravaganza, The Barber’s Fiddle. Although COVID-related restrictions slightly delayed it, she has a brand new album out from Dark Shadow Recording, Distance and Time, packed with plenty of the story-filled originals and contemporary sounds for which she and her band have become known.
The aforementioned The Barbers Fiddle was an early single from the album, released back in March, and has earned quite a bit of recognition in the months since. Buller and co-writer Lynda Dawson tie together the stories of several fiddling barbers who gave up the dream of life on the road for a steadier income. It’s truly a collaborative piece, with Jason Carter, Kati Penn, Sam Bush, Laurie Lewis, and Shawn Camp all contributing lead vocals, and no fewer than eighteen different well-known fiddlers contributing to the instrumentation. It’s a light, cheerful song with a toe-tapping melody that will surely be caught in your mind for hours after listening.
We Let Each Other Go is a nice country-style heartbreak song that Buller and harmony vocalist Melonie Cannon infuse with plenty of emotion. You can hear a range of feelings in Buller’s vocals – pain, anger, sadness, and a bit of resignation as she realizes that the break may have been the best choice: “Well, I’m sorry you’re broken and sad, but our hearts couldn’t compromise.” You Come Around, which Buller penned with Jeff Hyde, begins with foreboding guitar and fiddle as Buller and duet partner Ronnie Bowman explore the intricacies of unrequited love and complicated relationships. It, too, has a fine acoustic country vibe for which Buller’s vocals are well-suited.
The Ride, co-written by Buller and Eric Gibson offers a nice groove courtesy of Ned Luberecki’s banjo (as well as a cool bass solo from Daniel Hardin), and a message of putting your foot down and choosing yourself. “I’ve been a loser, I’ve been a fool,” Buller realizes, “Freedom is when you decide you’re not just along for the ride.” I Dream in Technicolor takes things way into the funky side of bluegrass with Buller delving into the wild and crazy dreams she has (“space lobsters tried to steal my baby, eight mobsters tap danced through my yard”), with hand claps, echoes, vocal bends, and more. According to the liner notes, Buller had been tossing around the song’s catchy chorus for years, but finally decided to use her “real-life, completely bizarre dream sequences” in the verses.
Several numbers take on religious or spiritual themes, including Salt and Light, which seems to address God and Biblical admonitions for living the best version of life: “You ask us to give, give to each other in love, with humble abandon that seeks no reward.” Harmonies from The Isaacs, percussion from Chris Brown, and Luberecki’s gently rolling banjo give the song a peaceful, almost haunting vibe – sort of a ’90s acoustic pop meets the ’70s feel. On completely the opposite end of the Gospel spectrum is the bluesy, Southern Gospel-influenced Tell the Truth (Shame the Devil), which Buller wrote with frequent collaborator Jon Weisberger. Legendary Gospel group, The Fairfield Four, joins her for some powerful harmony vocals on what is one of the album’s best tracks.
Though Buller is joined by a number of talented guests here, her core band for the album is also her touring band – Luberecki on banjo, Hardin on bass, Dan Boner on guitar, and Nate Lee on mandolin. As is often the case when recording with a band you play with so frequently, the result here is tight, impressive musicianship. Buller runs the gamut from country to Gospel to progressive grass, but, to put it simply, it all sounds good. Buller and her band’s love for what they do shines through, resulting in yet another winner of an album.
For more information on Becky Buller, visit her website. Her new album is available from a number of music retailers.