The darkness that surrounds Richard Buckner's writing always seems to be the focus of scrutiny for every judging ear, be it a professional critic's or an armchair critic's, and for good reason considering the elliptical, image-laden construction of Buckner's banter, but the constant reference to this blanket has almost unjustly glorified the artist into an impossible mystery. What isn't often mentioned is Buckner's ability to fill his music and lyrics with such a brutal and heavy heart that critics are quick to point to his lifestyle on the road, which implies a loner mentality, and his first divorce, which fueled his second album, Devotion + Doubt. When Impasse was released in late 2002, it was widely noted in the press that Buckner and his second wife, Penny Jo Buckner, were the only two musicians on the album and that, between the recording and the release of Impasse, the pair had split. The question on everyone's lips seemed to be what the follow-up would sound like and if essentially it would be Devotion + Doubt, Pt. 2. In some ways Dents and Shells treads similar ground in that it reflects some serious life change, but the impression Buckner leaves implies more a mutual understanding of why the two split rather than the paranoia that filled Devotion + Doubt. Much can be read into the lyrics of "Invitation" and "Her" -- and even, depending on how lucid one allows himself to become, the imagery of the artwork depicting two birds, one hovering above a circle and the other a square, flying in opposite directions away from a tree -- but what remains is another release that sounds how Richard Buckner has always sounded: grizzly, conceptual, fragmented, brooding, and plaintive. Dents and Shells also represents a change in Buckner's business, having moved over to Merge for this release, and back to a larger band (misery loves company?), recalling the approach to his third album, Since. The band Buckner assembled for Dents and Shells fits his standard of choosing notable musicians, the most prominent being Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey and Meat Puppets alum and former bassist for Bob Mould, Andrew DuPlantis. The re-emergence of pedal steel in Buckner's sonic nomenclature, played expertly by Mike Hardwick and Gary Newcomb, further solidifies the connection with Since while the liberal use of piano and organs hint at the atmosphere of The Hill with a bit more ebb and flow in style than what was exhibited on Impasse. Naturally the chosen musicians' approach to arrangements are different than previous sidemen, but Dents and Shells might best be looked at as Buckner's catalog refined into a clear and cohesive effort with which fans should be very pleased.
AllMusic Review by Gregory McIntosh