REVIEW: BUFORD POPE – BLUE EYED BOY (2017)

Down with the bleakness

Everyone who gets to, let’s say, a certain age, gets it. “I am almost 46,” reasons Buford Pope. “But In many ways, I am still the blue-eyed boy.”

That in a nutshell sums up the vibe on this his seventh album.

“Still Got Dreams” – which mentions the album title in its lyrics – begins with this couplet: “it’s strange, how life goes. No one knows” and essentially that is the die cast for the entire record.

It’s bleak, but only because the human condition is, but as it points out on what seems like a key thought: “sadness or happiness? Could be a state of mind, I guess.”

Almost claustrophobic and resolutely Americana in its intent, it comes as something of a surprise that Pope is from Sweden. There is a hint of the dry as dust Texas desert about the stark musical backing – it was cut live with no overdubs – crackles. “Ribbons In Her Hair” has something of The Bohannons about it and will strike a chord with everyone who spends a little too long thinking about their first love.

Oddly perhaps, for such a dark feeling record, there is a certain catchiness about these songs. That is the immense skill in Pope’s songwriting. “No Man’s Land” deals with the thought that life is slipping away, but will worm its way into the conscious with a fine hook. Likewise, “Infirmary” which has an unsettling air, largely thanks to the superb dobro playing is never a singalong, but it is memorable for sure.

Whilst it is a tremendous – and tremendously consistent – record throughout, there are a few genuine highlights. “Freewheeling” is one, there is a hint of country rock about this as Pope and his brother prop up the bar, while “Hard Land” has a celtic folk side that most of the record does not – and is delivered as a duet with the vocals to the fore.

“Someone” takes us back into dark places “I went for the rainbow, but all I had was rain” it suggests. By contrast, “The Baltic Sea” with its upbeat, almost (for this record anyway) jaunty air, provides a neat contrast, and there is an undercurrent of threat about “Don’t Lay A Hand On Him”  to set this record apart from many. It beats – proudly – with a dark heart.

At its best, perhaps, when it deals with matters personal. “Bloodline” has an air of The Allman Brothers at their most reflective, “Streetwise” is more proof that Pope’s most effective weapon is his fine voice, but he wrestles with his memories and regrets with mastery.

The country folk stylings of the ending “Visbyville” make for a top class conclusion, but this is not an immediate record. It perhaps is one that doesn’t need dipping in and out of, rather digesting as a whole, and moreover it is one that might only make perfect sense when you are alone with your thoughts in the middle of the night.

When it does work its way in, though, it is a gem for the men who still think they are the “Blue Eyed Boy” everywhere.

Rating 8/10