Richard Buckner

Saturday, July 17; Off Broadway

Once upon a time, Richard Buckner seemed like a singer-songwriter savior, an heir to rootsy poets like Townes Van Zandt, Bob Neuwirth and Jay Farrar. The meticulous acoustic groove of his 1994 debut, Bloomed, featured all the mandolins, accordions, and slide guitars producer Lloyd Maines could orchestrate and songs that, for all their delight in wordplay, had stories beating at their hearts and images bursting like fireworks at every chorus.

With each successive album, Buckner's sound has grown more oblique, his themes more emotionally lethal, his linguistic inventions as gamy as a Jabberwock's dream -- which is not to say they're any less beautiful or haunting. His last record, 2002's Impasse, sets the punishing strum of his acoustic guitar and droning keyboards against the tramping thump of his soon-to-be-ex-wife Penny Jo's drumming, while his voice twists the melodies into priestly incantations. "Trust me, I know where I am," he caws, "but how many turnarounds can you stand?" A fair question, as these compressed meditations on secrets, doubts and deliverance blur into one long, existential tail spin. "Good luck, hope you make it," Dylan once summed up his own songs. "I'll see your luck," Buckner might reply, "and raise you all the cruel honesty it takes to get there."

To see just how far Buckner has come, get to the club early, as this will be a 7 p.m. show.

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