Interesting chap Buford Pope. Hailing from Gotland, a sparsely populated Swedish island in the Baltic Sea, music was an early interest for him that became something much more when he discovered Bob Dylan, " I was 15 years old and was totally blown away by his attitude, he sang like no one else I've heard before".
Fast forward a good few years and Buford, real name Mikael Liljeborg and now pushing 46, is set to release his seventh album 'Blue-Eyed Boy' with a sound that has ranged across 'folk-rich country to gritty rock'n'roll'.
Buford tells us of his new album that "These are songs I've carried with me for a long time, some of them for ten years of more. They've grown from my own experience and people who've touched me, which is why I couldn't leave them to chance".
Accordingly, the album has been planned with utmost care but when it came to the recording, everything was done in one take "with no cuts, no loops, no tweaks. It's as raw as it gets".
All 12 songs here are Buford originals and as well as sing, he also supplies acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano, banjo, mandolin, harmonica and accordion. Numerous other artists, some English but mostly Swedish, contribute harmony vocals, upright bass, fiddle, drums, pedal steel, dobro, Hammond organ and additional piano and guitar. Lastly, 'Blue-Eyed Boy' was recorded and mixed by Alexander Harnlov at Vall Recording Studio in Sweden and produced by him and Buford.
Despite his long career, I must confess to never hearing Buford Pope before and the first thing that must hit the uninitiated like me, is his voice. It is without doubt one of the most distinctive, and I imagine divisive, voices I have ever heard. With immense power and presence, it occupies a musical range and tone that could easily be a male or female vocal, perhaps in the same way that Patti Smith does as an example. As reference points, there are hints of the nasal tones of Bob Dylan and Tom Petty and to a lesser extent, the register of another of Sweden's finest, The Tallest Man On Earth. The nearest overall comparison my ears can get to is the voice of the late Jim Diamond, who had big hits in the eighties with songs such as 'I Wont Let You Down' and 'I Should Have Known Better'. However, these are at best approximations and for once, the description 'unique' seems appropriate. The listener will decide whether this is a good or bad thing, but for me it is very good. The other thing of note is how his delivery tends to shift quite considerably between songs and in particular on certain numbers where he adopts very specific Bob Dylan type mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. For example, that Bob Dylan trademark of stretching his vowels out and raising his voice with a nasal uplift on the last word of a line, so 'find that missing link' becomes 'find that missing liiiiiiiiiink'! Clearly, Bob Dylan has been a massive influence for good on Buford Pope, but on one or two occasions his delivery does feel perilously close to parody, which is obviously not so good.
Opener 'Still Got Dreams' enters in courtly fashion with a first minute that effectively introduces the listener to the band. Lovely piano chords with guitar, pedal steel, bass and drums usher the song in before the arrival of Buford's full throttle vocal carries the track through, all with space and time to really breathe.
'Ribbons In Her Hair' is an early stand out, opening with a sweet guitar figure and subtle drones and swells underneath, giving that U2 'Joshua Tree' open landscape feel. It also features a more understated vocal from Buford accentuated by some beautiful harmonies from the Worry Dolls.
'No Man's Land' is a more obviously rhythmic number driven on by some impressive drumming as is 'Infirmary' which also clatters through impressively with Buford's vocal sitting slightly deeper in the mix.
'Freewheeling' opens with some great fiddle and starts like some old time song from the sound track of 'Cold Mountain' before it settles into a more contemporary feel. This is another strong track melodically but unfortunately features some of Buford's more excessive Bob Dylan mannerisms, although get past these and it's a great song still.
'Hard Land' is another visit to old time Americana and is my favourite song on the album. Harmony vocals feature strongly throughout and give that real sense of The Civil Wars or Gillian Welch & David Rawlings - great stuff, beautifully arranged and in and out in a criminally short two minutes forty seconds!
'Someone' is a more straightforward modern country ballad whereas 'The Baltic Sea' pumps through apace and conjures up images of Fleetwood Mac in places.
'Don't Lay A Hand On Him' is a slower, starker song full of archetypal, bad family imagery and overtones 'Don't lay a hand on him, don't lay a hand, he's my son, he killed a man, he killed a man, with my gun'.
'Bloodline' is a stately ballad, regally delivered and has a timeless 'The Band' feel about it but strays dangerously close musically to their version of Dylan's 'I Shall Be Released' in places, but is a great performance nonetheless.
The album draws to a close with another ballad, 'Streetwise' that builds effortlessly throughout and the gentle, rootsy vibe of the yearning 'Visbyville' featuring some particularly evocative harmonies and a great instrumental play out.
'Blue-Eyed Boy' covers many bases and although the instrumentation points towards mainstream country with pedal steel in particular usually high in the mix, it ranges over Folk, Roots, Americana, Blues, Old Time and Bar Room Rock. Everything is crisply recorded with a tight 'live band' feel and I particularly liked the engine room sound of the drum and bass at the heart of everything. The songs are strongly written and well arranged, although on one or two occasions sounded slightly derivative and would benefit from Buford reigning in his Bob Dylan mannerisms.
However, these are just minor quibbles. I like this album a lot and it has much to recommend it. And then there's that voice.
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