?Buck Again? is the first full-length from Kelli Shay Hicks, following last year?s three song ep, ?Bucked.? Reviews for that disc inevitably focused on the fact that it was produced in a handful of remote locations by independent film maker Jem Cohen (also presumably the inspiration for the new album?s ?Jem?).And while she stayed in one place to record ?Buck Again? the album has a wispish intransigence to it that suggests restlessness and a fear of decay.
The packaging adds to the mystique. The disc comes housed in a die-cut cardboard case painted gold; there?s no indication at all of what?s inside. Song titles and credits are then printed on an enclosed single sheet of delicately translucent paper, giving the project an air of otherworldliness.
Once inside, the hushed chamber music feel brings to mind the best solo work of Kristen Hersh (whose debut ?Hips and Makers? once guided me safely through a treacherous Rocky Mountains snowstorm as cars all around me careened off the road). The instrumentation primarily consists of Hicks accompanying herself on acoustic guitar and autoharp. Hicks is certainly an inspired fingerpicker. Close your eyes during the brief instrumental ?Andy? and it?s not hard to imagine you?re listening to something off a Jack Rose disc
At the same time, though, there are subtle rhythmic touches that add immeasurably to the depth of sound. Listen to Rob Doran?s plucked bass notes as they move across ?Go Away? and marvel at the way they emphasize the song?s themes of decaying romance.
Lyrically, Hicks walks that fine line between the vague and the obtuse, seemingly addressing specific people with a sparse poetry. I?m particularly enchanted by ?Hospital Song.? She sings:
Don?t you let them look at you
don?t get inside their cars
once inside they try to marry you
and by then you?ve gone to far
volunteers from the hospital
come to try to give you tests
once inside the hospital
on your test you do your best
I?m not quite sure what she means, but I know exactly what she?s getting at, and the irresistible poignancy of the medical metaphor only adds even more weight. This is a disc for dark nights and quiet introspection. I look forward to further uncovering its haunting charms. 8/10 -- Scott Downing (7 August, 2007)