Crepe Paper Heart, the second album from virtuoso Becky Buller, carries on where her first recording for Dark Shadow Recording left off. ‘Tween Earth and Sky’ garnered Buller considerable praise and acclaim for a musician who’s played with the cream of the crop in bluegrass and country music and has struck out on her own with considerable success.
The dozen songs on this new release are powerful without ever being too respectful of traditional music and makes great use of this style as a vehicle for her own personal expression. Guest stars like Sam Bush, Claire Lynch, and Rhonda Vincent join Buller’s road band on numerous cuts to make this an even more invigorating experience, but the focus resolutely remains on Buller throughout the entirety of the release. Many bluegrass albums, unfortunately, have a samey-ness about their presentation that often illustrates the artist’s lack of deep, genuine understanding about the nature of the form, but Buller presents a diverse musical attack that should satisfy purists and casual fans alike.
“Bitter Springs to Big Trees” is one of the album’s finest lyrics and Buller’s vocal exercises a lot of patience to help realize the potential for storytelling and characterization filling the lyric. It’s refreshing to hear how well Buller does picking up the mantle of this style in the 21st century and crafts songs very reminiscent of traditional material without ever sounding too hidebound to the style. “Cair Paravel” is an instrumental onrush that never loses sight of laying down a nuanced arrangement rather than just attempting to impress listeners with their technical skill.
The sacred side of her songwriting emerges with the song “Speakin’ to that Mountain” is one of the album’s finest overall band performances and Buller throws herself completely into the performance while still conveying her respect for the song’s material and sentiments. Sam Bush joins Buller and her band for the song “The Rebel and the Rose” and the creative partnership makes for one of the best performances on Crepe Paper Heart. It’s a song that, in lesser hands, could have ran on much longer, but her confidence and artistry make this a tightly focused effort from the first.
“She Loved Sunflowers” is, perhaps, a bit of an unexpected number lyrically for a bluegrass number and it shows how Buller can treat the style with immense respect and still flesh it out with her own idiosyncrasies to make for a more entertaining number. “Maybe” is another melancholy number on an album that, thankfully, doesn’t rely too much on such songs to win over the audience. The heartbreak and uncertainty lurking in the core of this song are handled with great finesse.
Crepe Paper Heart closes with the vocal showcase “Written in the Back of the Book” thanks to the talents of the vocal group The Fairfield Four and their contributions to the song bring Buller’s lyric and vocal arrangement to wonderful life. This is one of the best releases in the Americana genre in 2018 and, arguably, the finest moment yet in Becky Buller’s long career.
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-review by Scottie Carlito