Before heading out to last year’s Pickathon Music festival, I had a pretty good idea of which sets I was planning to check out. It was a solid lineup and, even though the majority of acts perform twice throughout the weekend, conflicts in the schedule are definitely still possible. That’s why it’s a good feeling to have that mostly worked out in my crazy skull beforehand. The real conflict, however, is that the Oregon festival prides itself on packing the bill with up-and-coming artists and providing a platform for attendees to discover new talent. Because of this, I have been guilty of taking an ignorance is bliss approach, failing to delve further into offshoots on the schedule for fear of throwing another obstacle into the mix and discovering that I might be forced to “miss” something. I prefer to assume that my Schrödinger’s cat is dead. Then, after continuously hearing comments here and there regarding a Brooklyn outfit by the name of Big Thief, I broke down and hit up youtube. Maybe I could check them off the list as something that didn’t require my attention. But, for better or worse… I couldn’t. The first thing that I stumbled across was the 4-piece performing an NPR Tiny Desk concert from 2016 and, while I’d say that my affinity for them was fairly instant, the music still continued to grow on and stick with me. We ultimately wound up catching both of the band’s Pickathon sets with absolutely no regrets.
The project centers around vocalist/guitarist Adrianne Lenker and her haunting and timeless, yet incredibly individual, voice, but there was no confusion that the man to her right plays an integral role. I’m referring to the group’s lead guitarist/co-founder, Buck Meek. I, previously, elaborated, as follows, during my review from the festival last August…
“As with the other two members — drummer, James Krivchenia, and bassist, Max Oleartchik — Meek is visibly overcome by the music they are creating, which manifests into various jolts and tweaks in his body and facial expressions as he performs it. I assume that many reviewers are likely to make note of his unorthodox physical reaction, but these physical movement directly align with his unorthodox and inspired approach to his instrument.”
Meek‘s delivery is reflective of my overall take-away from the group, which is simply that I believe them. To me, that’s one of the most important aspects while evaluating an artist, whether or not their intentions appear genuine; if what they are producing feels contrived. With Big Thief, nothing comes across as forced. Nothing feels manufactured simply for marketing purposes, or as if they are working to fit into any pre-existing scene that could benefit them. Lenker presents vivid, yet organic characters through her song writing, painting incredibly tangible narratives to swallow up the listener, and every element in the group works cohesively to support that, while retaining its own voice. Buck‘s backing vocals noticeably provide an additional depth and dimension, as does his guitar work, but the notes that he chooses for the solos truly offer a unique component. They may stand out in those moments, but only to enhance these tracks; never to overpower them.
Their first set at Pickathon took place in the blazing heat of the mid-afternoon and one loud asshole in particular continued to aggressively shout his request for a song that never arrived. When he asked Buck if they’d ever play it, the musician responded with reverence for Lenker, explaining that it was up to “the boss.” The other members believe in what they’re doing and they believe in their frontwoman. There is never any feeling that anyone wants to climb over anyone else to get any personal shine, only to strengthen what it is that they are trying to conjure up and sustain as a unit. With Big Thief, Meek is in a supporting role. That being said, the respect is mutual and, at one point in the set, Lenker offered her partner the floor to play one of his own tunes, while stating how much love she has for his abilities as one of her favorite songwriters. I believe that she may have even mentioned that he had his own project in the works.
Today, we receive our first sample of Buck Meek‘s upcoming 10-song, solo debut, in the form of a new track titled “Cannonball!” The eponymous debut from the Texas-bred artist is slated for a May 18th release date. Make sure check out the single below, followed by a list of upcoming tour dates, including appearances at SXSW and Willie Nelson’s Luck Familly Reunion. The album can be pre-ordered on various physical formats through HERE.