On his 1994 debut album, Bloomed, Richard Buckner built a memorable song around the line "This is where things start goin' bad," but Buckner made that notion the overriding theme of his second full-length release, 1997's Devotion + Doubt. Written and recorded in the wake of the collapse of Buckner's first marriage, Devotion + Doubt abandons the largely acoustic, string band-influenced approach of Bloomed in favor of a stark, dusty sound that suggests a sleepless night in a motel room in the Arizona desert. J.D. Foster's production and the accompaniment from Calexico founders Joey Burns and John Convertino is often as spare as a whisper in the dark, but the production is a perfect match for the deep insinuations of Buckner's textured voice and the artful, impressionistic heartache of the lyrics, and this is a significantly more ambitious and accomplished effort than Bloomed, as fine as that album was. With the exception of "A Goodbye Rye" (which in the context of this album sounds like a hit single, though it's hard to imagine what radio format would embrace its high lonesome Americana), Devotion + Doubt is defined by its open spaces, a fitting metaphor for the sense of absence that comes with divorce, and if this album is subtle, the dynamics allow the tough emotions at play to connect with a force that's somehow more powerful for the gentleness of its touch. Bloomed announced to the world that Richard Buckner was a gifted singer/songwriter with tremendous potential; Devotion + Doubt was a creative left turn that more than lived up to the promise of the debut, and remains one of his most compelling works.
Devotion + Doubt Review
by Mark Deming