Monday, July 26, 2010

Pickin' Banjo On Buck's Porch

This is a limited CD I passed on for a long time, 'cause it looked just to be a handful of previously released songs slapped onto a cheap tour CD. But I finally picked this up,and I'm glad I did. Because, though the songs are all pretty much ones you've heard, they're all new versions, and compelling ones at that. It's Buck 65's Porch, which was sort of quietly released in 2007.

First a note about its discogs listing, I guess. I notice they make a point of correcting the track-listing as its written on the CD's liner notes, re-ordering the songs "as they appear on the CD here." This is confusing to me... unless there are actually two pressings of this (which seems unlikely, as it's a very limited run, tour CD)? Because I've got this, and the songs on mine play in the correct order as they're written out. Also, the discogs separates the last track into two songs, when it's clearly a single song mash-up (more on that later) and correctly listed in the notes as one song. So I don't know if whoever's uploading this info is just using some dubious, mislabeled set of mp3s downloaded form the 'net, or if there's actually two versions of this CD; but mine matches the official track-listing.

So, that out of the way, this is a short, five song collaborative EP between Buck 65 and a guy named John Zytaruk, a musician who also worked with Buck on several of his Dirtbike songs. This is essentially Buck 65 unplugged... there's no programmed beats or scratches or any sound by any device that needs to be plugged in. These are acoustic versions of the songs. In fact, I'll write you the credits as they're written in the liner notes:

"John Zytaruk - guitar, banjo, dobro, mandolin, percussion
Buck 65 - vocals, glockenspiel, foot stomps
Produced by John Zytaruk"

Yeah, so banjos, foot stompin' and Buck playing the glockenspiel. This is Buck taking the Talkin' Honky Blues angle to an even further extreme. The credits mention percussion, but there's barely any to be heard... You can hear a bit, keeping rhythm, if you put your ear to speaker, but that's it. And I can see why that may sound like a huge turn-off, but by and large, it's really pretty good.

So, this EP features some unreleased music: "Heather Nights" and a song that Buck only otherwise released on mp3 through his site, "Indestructible Sam" from the mp3-only EP Dirty Work. It features "Blood of a Young Wolf" from Secret House Against the World and "Craftsmanship" from Talkin' Honky Blues. But again, even these previously released songs are new versions, so it's really all-new.

Not every version is an improvement, mind you. "Blood Of a Young Wolf," sounds cool and mellower in this stripped down version, so it's a nice alternative. But at the end of the day, if I had to pick only one, I definitely prefer the original album version and its additional instrumentation. "Indestructible Sam" copies the same banjo rhythm but ditches the driving percussion rhythm, making this sound like an old civil war standard. But the EP has a great consistency that has a merit you can't account for when you just take every song individually. It's an impressive and engaging listen as a whole, almost like one giant song with change-ups.

The last track is "Wicked and Weird/Coo Coo Bird." "Wicked and Weird," of course, was the anthemic first single from Talkin' Honky Blues. And "Coo Coo Bird" is an old American folk song by Clarence Ashley. To be honest, this one doesn't work so well for me. It's the "mash-up" I mentioned earlier, with Buck alternating between the lyrics of his own "Wicked and Weird" and the old "Coo Coo Bird" song. I reckon this is meant to show how effectively he's managed to gel these two seemingly disparate genres, seamlessly blending rap and folk. But the problem is it's not seamless at all. "Wicked and Weird" is a totally different tempo and style and the two just don't mix. As a whole, it's not a bad idea, and probably something Buck could've pulled off if he used another - slower, more laid back - song from his catalog. But "Wicked and Weird" is too pop rockish - it's a great song, but a really bad choice for this medley. So... it's interesting. But after you've checked it out, you'll probably wind up only playing this EP through the first four songs when you go to revisit it.

But it's an EP that's worth revisiting, which frankly, is more than you can say for most albums these days. So if you passed over it like me, I recommend backtracking and seeing if you can find a copy.

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