The Buckerettes,
The Buckerettes
(independent, 2008)

One's immediate -- and, all things considered, understandable -- impression of this Asheville, North Carolina-based acoustic trio is that it aspires to be a feminine answer to the venerable Riders in the Sky.

The Riders have been reviving Western-pop music (inspired by Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers) for decades now. Like the Riders, the Buckerettes possess both keen comedic skills and first-rank musical chops. Though there is some undeniable resemblance, the Buckerettes turn out not -- at least all, or even most, of the time -- to be the Riders in skirts.

"Zen Cowgirl," the opening cut, makes clear that these three women are not reprising Gene Autry or even the Girls of the Golden West. While the Riders play basically to the Grand Ole Opry audience, the Buckerettes' is the broader cultural perspective of the hipster or, more to the point, of the liberal-arts major who falls in love with American roots music. The Buckerettes have integrated a range of grounded genres into a cohesive and tuneful language with plenty of accents, including (most obviously) 1930s/'40s country, plus vintage pop, folk, swing and gospel.

All but one of the songs are originals written by one or another member of the band. Each is expertly, often joyfully performed, and a few express social satire and criticism subtle enough to escape the comprehension of the not fully attentive. Only those who listen closely to, for example, "Cowgirl in Paris," about how once-loved "cowboys" are now despised ("the Wild West gone astray"), will learn how deeply unlikely it is that the Buckerettes voted for George W. Bush -- though if you want to, you can also hear the song as mourning the declining popularity of the Western (something worth lamenting on its own). I don't think, though, that the Buckerettes really want you to hear it that way.

The group consists of Deb Criss (guitar), Robin Cape (bass) and Roberta Greenspan (fiddle). Their harmonies are warm and pure, and there's plenty of good-natured humor. Most of my favorites here, however, are the more serious songs, particularly Criss's "Sweneo" (a Seneca word translating as something like "the great mystery"), imbued with awe and beauty sufficient to disorient you and even, for the duration of its 5:08, encourage you to see the world with new eyes. There are also, courtesy of Greenspan's playing and compositional skills, a couple of terrific fiddle tunes.

review by
Jerome Clark

4 October 2008

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