Black Music Matters Festival

Becky Buller

Little Bird – 2004 (Bell Buckle)

Reviewed by Brad San Martin

CDs by Becky Buller

Quietly but persistently, Becky Buller is emerging as a prominent bluegrass songwriter, with great cuts on disks by Doyle Lawson (the tremendous "Be Living"), Rhonda Vincent, Valerie Smith, IIIrd Tyme Out and Mark Newton. Her songs stand out for their incisiveness: the lyrics are plain-spoken, honest and direct; the melodies refreshingly uncluttered. Her first album as a performer, 2000's self-released "Rest My Weary Feet," was lean, warm, and engaging for those exact reasons.

Four years and many songs later, "Little Bird" does not disappoint. Her writing continues to improve, marked by developing shades of depth and subtlety. A charming character study, "Opal, Ruby & Pearl" paints a picture of small town life that never succumbs to nostalgic clich+s. A collaboration with Valerie Smith - in whose band Liberty Pike Buller plays fiddle - "On the South Dakota Wind" is a strikingly suspenseful story song, one marked by a mature sense of timing and unfolding drama. The title track is an ingenious warning to a friend in a troubled relationship, powerfully using a vintage metaphor to convey a very modern message.

As good as her secular material is, Buller shines most on her original gospel songs, which apply the same clear-eyed aesthetic to compelling ends. Songs like "The Master's Garden" and "Take Me Over Jordon" have a timeless melodic elegance, yet delivered with an immediacy that is clearly contemporary. While the sometimes rough-and-tumble recording quality does no one any favors, the quality of the material makes this another strong step on Buller's journey to the front ranks of bluegrass songsmiths. (E-Mail: POB 298, Bell Buckle, TN 37020, 931-389-9694)