Buck 65 - Talkin' Honky Blues
Warner Canada Records.
I want you to try a little visualization for me. Imagine if Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan were actually one person, and this one person was a rapper. Now imagine if this person had a musical vision just as indebted to DJ Shadow (and even Tom Waits) as it is to Cash and Dylan.
Wierd picture, no? Thing is, it paints a perfect picture of Buck 65.
Allegedly written in Paris, Talking Honky Blues is Buck 65's 7th album (at least, under the moniker of Buck 65, it is). He debuted in 1997 with Language Arts, after spending years working his way up to the dubiously specific crown of Halifax, Nova Scotia's most notorious b-boy. After running a radio show for a while, he scored a record deal, and found himself as one of the most critically acclaimed, if overlooked, rappers of the last 90s. Vertex, his 3rd album, almost gave him a breakthrough in its hilarious cult hit The Centaur, but it didn't. Nevertheless, more and more people found out about him thanks to his membership in various underground rap collectives (most notably the awesome Anticon). Talkin' Honky Blues represents his attempt to break out to a new crowd - it's his most expansive, immediate, catchy, and outwardly distinctive album yet. He's also employed a band for the first time, meaning the album doesn't rely so heavily on his own skills as a DJ and producer, and that he can focus on his lyrics more. The effort shows - these are his best lyrics, ever. It also means the album is more guitar-driven in places than anything else he's done, all of which makes it one of those albums will happily settle into any record collection while remaining at odds to everything around it.
Buck 65's topics on this album aren't your usual ones. He seems, on a strange level, to be speaking from an antiquated place. He's got an everyman, working class appeal, one that for some strange reason reminds me of Jack in Big Trouble In Little China. He raps about having a lil' Johnny Cash in the old tape deck, of visiting Father Bob and seeing his train set, and of the mistakes of the shoe-shining amatuers who put up numbers just to please their managers, within conceptual tracks in which he assumes numerous different personalities (as all good poets should). Then again, just as soon he'll write a song like Tired Out, a haunting lament on a break-up that makes Dry Your Eyes by The Streets sound like We Are The Cheeky Girls. Or he'll tackle a 7-part broken song-cycle built of metaphor, like The Riverbed.
(A note: songs like these have led this album to laughably be labelled in some quarters as 'emo-hip-hop'. If you hear anyone say that, ever, please remove their speaking and/or thinking priviledges in one way or another.)
His voice isn't quite what you'd expect, either. I've never been anywhere near Nova Scotia, so I can't really comment on whether or not it's a typical accent for that region. But, in any case, he sounds much rootsier, even far older than most of his contemporaries. He's also much more obviously white than the most obvious comparison, Eminem. Think Bubba SparXXX, but much less gimmicky, and you're in the right territory.
Musically? Man, it's anyone's guess. Sore is built upon a basic ska rhythm and a squelching bassline, and features that organ sound you only ever seem to find at baseball games. 463 has a recurring harpsichord-esque riff that sounds like Massive Attack's Teardrop played faster, before it turns into a dense guitar-heavy instrumental. Wicked And Wierd gives the critics a golden opportunity to over-use the words 'funky' and 'infectious'. Protest even welds KanYe West to sleigh bells. None of it should work, but it always does. And, of course, he gets a chance to show off his skills as a DJ in the instrumental Killed By A Horse.
Talkin' Honky Blues should
have had at least one major hit in either Wicked And Wierd or 463 (which at least recieved very limited plays in the UK on 120 Minutes and The Lock-up), but despite it raising Buck's profile somewhat, it failed to provide a mainstream breakthrough for him. Oh well. He's just signed to Virgin, and a compilation (This Right Here Is Buck 65) is going to be released at the end of January 2005. Maybe then. Until that happens, though, Buck's left us an album to cherish in Talkin' Honky Blues. It's distinctive, diverse, consistent, and feels oddly timeless. Some may not appreciate Buck's approach, mentality, minimalism, or even his voice (which one of my friends complained about), but that's their problem. Everyone else will find much to appreciate here.
Within The Genre - 4/5
Outside The Genre - 4/5
Recommended Downloads -
Wicked And Wierd
It's the most obvious highlight here, being as it is the most dancable, upbeat song, and the one you'll most likely have stuck in your head once the album has finished. Here, Buck 65 talks about life on the road, through the eyes of a trucker.
The highway's a story teller, I just write it down
Already been beaten, there's no way to fight it now
I just kick back and keep warm on the cold days
And laugh 'cause it ain't like it was in the old days
I figure when I make it to the heavenly gates
They'll be working on my car and playing 78's
It's the track that made me a Buck 65 fan, so I've got to give love for that. This is the song that most directly harks back to Buck's music on Vertex - it's clearly structured into a vocal section and an instrumental section, much like The Centaur. It's also the rockiest track on here. The lyrics deal primarily with nostalgia, as the protagonist looks back on youth, seemingly a little confused; he drags up insignificant memories, and makes odd, sweeping references to today (TV and magazines/They'd have you believe every day is Halloween).
It feels very odd picking another Recommended Download, given that the album feels like a complete experience. Wicked And Wierd and 463 stand out by virtue of the fact that they were singles, more than anything else, but they're also by far the most immediate and attention-grabbing things here. So, I've been arbitrary about it and chosen Tired Out. It's not necessarily the best song on the rest of the album, but it's the one that stands out the most, and the one most likely to convert somebody who isn't converted by Wicked & Wierd or 463. This is a fairly simple, direct, and touching song about a break-up with his girlfriend Sarah, that nonetheless contains some poignant everyman (and religious) imagery. There's some pretty cool pedal steel and slide guitar going on, too.