Hailing from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, singer-songwriter T. Buckley (no relation to the late Tim Buckley) delivers as pure an Americana album as any stateside artist. Every one of the songs on Frame by Frame, his second album, is about family, friend, or essential history of the region where he was raised. A group of core players help Buckley deliver these songs. They are Jesse Dollimont (mandolin, guitar, backing vocals), Mitch Jay (various strings), Steve Fletcher (keys), Dan Stadnicki (drums), and Keith Rempel (bass). As Buckley began to forge his solo career, after making three albums with a trio, he started writing with John Wort Hannam (whose recent album Long Haul, we covered on these pages last month) and Nashville-based Don Henry. These influences helped him craft fine details in his stories and produce a range of sounds that touch on Laurel Canyon country rock, traditional folk, and the kind of roots-rock we hear from artists such as Buddy Miller, Rodney Crowell, or Steve Earle. As with the best singer-songwriters, his strength lies in the rich imagery of his lyrics.
Most of the album is centered in warm acoustic folk-like tones but the opener “Wildfire” is modern Americana with jangling guitars, swirling B3 and a pulsating beat. The tune owes to his sister and his daughter, both of whom are fearless and a bit reckless in their approach – “Born with nerves on top of the skin, a mind sharper than Shakespeare’s pen.” “Father’s Child” is a co-write with Hannam, It’s not purely autobiographical but was instead written about friend and his relationship with his dad, a sentiment that Hannam could relate to in his own situation and thus wrote the chorus – “And it all comes clear, When the smoke disappears/Sometimes things in the mirror are closer than they appear.” Tempo picks up with “Before I Get to Turn Around,” showcasing the band at full throttle, using full-on B3, synths, space echoes and a blistering guitar solo from Mitch Jay. The theme is the difficulty of trying to outrun the choices we make.
“Settlers’ Town,” a reflective song imbued with rich vocal harmonies, speaks to racism – in this case the mistreatment of Indigenous peoples, an issue which still lingers throughout North America and how local peer pressure often forces us to remain passive rather than speaking out. Staying in a similar folk acoustic mode, Buckley then addresses at risk youth and young offenders, with whom he’s worked in “Holding my Place,” a single, explaining how the system just churns them from one institution to the next without confronting the core problems of abuse, mental illness, neglect, and substance abuse. His phrasing and delivery ooze empathy.
“Marilyn” is an upbeat tune, honoring the ability to carry on after losing a close relative. Like the opening “Wildfire” Buckley soars on the choruses and the band is surging throughout. In the title track he speaks of time spent with his Great Depression-raised grandfather, who could fix virtually anything. As such, the smell of the old car, the greasy shirt, and “using a piece of bread to clean my plate” are cinematic in detail. The sweeping “Solid Ground” is an ambitious song, chronicling the boom or bust history of Alberta with some healthy doses of sarcasm at the overused “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality. “The Sweater” speaks to how simple things such as a sweater found in a cardboard box can generate countless memories. It’s a reminder to treasure special moments. The closer “After You Got Back,” was also one of the last songs recorded and its lazy groove eventually fade along with the lyric – “And all the colours faded to black/After you got back.” It’s a perfect close for an artist and a band that left it all on the floor. (Note – there is a bonus track – “My First Guitar” not listed on the jacket on in the booklet of lyrics.)
Buckley has won several awards in his native Calgary. This record is strong enough for Buckley to garner widespread recognition amongst the Americana community. He is more than worthy.