When a record reviewer comments that a CD holds up to repeated listening, it is always meant as a compliment. Necessity can sometimes be the motivation in returning a disc to the player, providing the listener feels any urgency to understand what an artist might be trying to say. Stephanie Rearick should be very proud of The Bucket Rider, a solo effort created in 2003 -- but like the Franz Kafka writing from which its title comes, this is a work that requires thought and concentration and is delightfully relaxed about the concept of rewarding its audience with specific insight. It is not like getting smacked in the head with a hammer, an action in which the meaning is clear but just about the last activity anybody would want to experience in repeated doses. Truly concentrating on creations such as The Bucket Rider can be difficult, a challenging situation for the musician who is also a lyricist. Rearick's instrumental skills on piano pretty much dominate the first listening; this is a one person and one piano album, despite the occasional overdubbing effect. But it is not the affair of a fool's book of songs, simple chords pounding away behind sweaty emotional messages. Rather, the most positive aspect of progressive rock is here in its full glory, that being the overwhelming influence of classical music. A performance from one of 20th century composer Samuel Barber's collection of songs is in the program, so this aspect extends beyond influence into repertoire itself. Mostly, though, Rearick likes to reference Bartók, Debussy, Stravinsky, and others in the context of pieces that include tantalizing vocals, singing words that surely must be at the heart of the CD's true meaning.
The piano continues to attract most of the attention the second time The Bucket Rider enters the listening salon. This time around it is something of a love affair with the instrument extending to the sound of the piano in the recording and how that is developed through the course of 14 different pieces. There is character to spare in the way this keyboard speaks; if an actor were chosen to interpret the part of this piano sound it would have to be Sir Alec Guinness, Basil Rathbone, someone like that. The piano sometimes sounds pristine, sometimes sounds funky, is intentionally out of tune on the marvelous "Clyde." A repeated clinker on this track rivals, for courage in the face of despair, the messed-up note Keith Jarrett keeps playing on a bad electric piano on the Miles Davis Live-Evil album. Attempts are made to establish the third listen-through as an organizational milestone in which the flow of the album will be mapped out and the lyrical theme of each song, if not individual lyrics, will be both fully understood and interpreted. The complexities of daily life interfere, however, a reality that adds much blood to the struggle songwriters have getting across. Several studies have indicated that a majority of listeners simply have no idea what some of their favorite songs are all about, proving that even frequent repetition can't help the problem. Neither do phone calls that interrupt attempts to figure out the lyrics to the third track on the CD, "Tiny Hairs." It is a title that sounds like Frank Zappa, a person so intent on being understood that he pretty much always printed the lyrics, no matter how many pages it took. This means that when a guy who calls himself "Hobo" calls to tell you the reasons you saw him driving a different truck than usual, the resulting lapse in concentration can be compensated for by reading the lyric sheet. With "Tiny Hairs" this has to wait for the fourth listen, in which case what really seems to stand out is how effortlessly the song comes out of the preceding track, the aforementioned Barber adaptation.
The Bucket Rider as an entity is organized like a really good nightclub set, introducing a fine cover version of Andy Ewen's "Single Scarlet Thread" at just the right point and then proceeding on to material such as "These Birds," in which a somewhat funkier feel is combined with chords that sound like McCoy Tyner. This feeling of cohesion, culminating in "L'Inhumaine," a terrific three-part suite, might have been more obvious on even the third listen. Unfortunately, during that time period another of the free spirits in the house decided that it was time to play the maxi-single of "Sisters Doin' It for Themselves" by Aretha Franklin and the Eurythmics. That's an appropriate choice of unfortunately not background music considering that sister Rearick not only played but recorded, engineered, and produced The Bucket Rider by herself. The comparison also reveals much about what Rearick's music cannot do. It cannot, no matter how much it is turned up, blot out the sound of a disco hit somebody has put on in the distance. It is there for you when your brain is working, but will not don a superhero outfit and wrench control away from the mass of nincompoops called modern society. Its creator should hopefully extend sympathy to audience members who, despite their best intentions, have yet to decipher as much of the lyrical content as desired -- but who certainly agree with the thought expressed in the title "I Need Sunflowers!" It is time to go water them.