I’m guessing the average dude wants to know what it feels like to be T. Buckley. On a typical day, the Calgary singer-songwriter deals with your run-of-the-mill consequences of being one of the best-loved musicians in town. He plays a weekly gig at roots club Wine-Ohs, augmenting that with other shows around town and short tours. He plays festivals, joins his sister Mariel for the occasional duet, and generally fends off the rapidly growing crowd of admirers. All in a day’s work. Most of us would freak out, but Buckley shrugs it off with ease.
Seems like Buckley is happier than ever on his new album, though. Nowhere Fast is a paradoxical title for him at this point, reinforced by the fact that he got local country hero Tom Phillips to not only donate a couple tunes, but also write the liner notes. The whole album is a collaborative effort, really, signifying what the Calgary scene is all about. Phillips appears for songwriting credits, fellow trio members Derek Pulliam and Tim Leacock contribute their own tunes to the album, and local songwriter Dave McCann did the graphic design.
Back to Buckley’s elation. Maybe it helps that he got married recently, but he’s nearly giddy on some of these songs. “The Blues Don’t Come Around” is an ode to the gal responsible for shaking off his writer’s block and other art-related anxieties. A cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Steel Rail Blues” matches “Don’t Come Around” in sentiment:
Well I got my mail last night
A letter from a girl who found the time to write
To her lonesome boy somewhere in the night
She sent me a railroad ticket too
To take me to her loving arms
And the big steel rail
Gonna carry me home to the one I love
Meanwhile, “Stuck in a Rut” is a chugging rejection of the right away to do things, a sort of celebration of failure that might do us all well when we’re drowning in crisis. The band pushes behind Buckley’s exuberant delivery, adding blues slides that emphasize the underlying humour of the lyrics.
Still. I don’t think the strength of this album is the elation, nor is it the collaboration. Those elements are all well and good, but anyone can toss together a collection of happy tunes with their pals and offer it to us. No, it’s that there’s extraordinary confidence in Nowhere Fast. Perhaps that confidence is setting-induced: the band gathered at the Banff Centre for the Arts to record in a straight shot that was just over two weeks long. That meant tight quarters, concentrated focus, a vision well in place before they made the trek. I think the confidence is about more than Banff, though. It’s coming from the band playing together so often – I mean, who gets a weekly gig these days – that they know each other through and through. You can hear it in the way they slip in and out of the aural spotlight to let the others play, and the looseness in approach that translates into serious virtuosity. It’s in their ability to record in such a way that would make mistakes, uncertainties glaringly obvious: the whole record is only sparse textures, no drums (who does that anymore?). Buckley, who is so often a careful and thoughtful performer, has made himself vulnerable by recording this way, allowing us to hear even the slightest of wavers in his voice. And he’s doing it with gusto. Such a great thing to hear.
“I’m going nowhere fast,” sings Buckley in the final, title track, while a harmonica whines in the distance. “I’m where you saw me last.” No. No you aren’t. Buckley is heading toward the top, and he’s doing it fast. Catch him while you still can.
Nowhere Fast is available on Buckley’s website, where you can also find gig and tour information.