Album Review – Joe Buck’s “Who Dat?”
I’ve never thought of Joe Buck as one to pay too much attention to the artistry of the recorded format. His discography consists mostly of slapped together CDRs with little psychotic scribbles for cover drawings, all home recorded, many with multiple versions of the same songs. I’m not complaining. They’re cool in their own right, like little pieces of evil folk art that contain more meaning than a mass produced glass-mastered silver disc in a plastic jewel case ever could. But it would be a stretch to say that a lot of refinement went into them. Joe Buck is a live performer.
Then about two years ago he released Piss & Vinegar, a proper studio album produced by Jack Endino (Nirvana’s Bleach) reportedly to be put out with heavy metal label Century Media before that deal went south. It included the prime cuts of Joe Buck’s previous albums done in a proper studio. For some of Buck’s core fans who’d been used to hearing the rough versions for so many years and watching him morph into a one man monster live, Piss & Vinegar felt somewhat tame. But Piss & Vinegar wasn’t for them necessarily, it was to reach folks who’d never heard Joe Buck before, to create a high-quality archive of his songs.
Joe Buck’s song craft has always been under-appreciated. People pick up on the primal experience of his show and many times miss the wisdom in his music. He once told me he could write songs for Taylor Swift (after telling me also that he “gets her”), and with one of his signature songs “Bitter Is The Day”, Joe Buck has given us a glimpse of what he’s capable of.
Who Dat is a completely different direction for Joe Buck, while still being exactly what he’s always done. That’s the root genius of it. Yes, without question this album is a lot more tame, more tame than even Piss & Vinegar. But what this approach does is bring out the roar of quiet anger. In many ways, even though this album features much less distortion and more singing than shouting or screaming, it’s even harder, even more disillusioned and unbalanced as a byproduct of it’s muted approach. Joe Buck’s anger isn’t as obvious, it is seething beneath the surface, boiling and permeating these recordings with an unsettled feeling, like a pressure tank ready to burst.
Just as with all of his albums, Joe Buck plays everything: guitar, drums, and bass. The instrumentation on Who Dat is more fleshed out than on most Joe Buck works, with good separation and engineering in the recording by Twin Oak’s Jason Dietz. Joe Buck plays his leads on an acoustic, again keeping you on that creepy edge from the understated approach. The words are more clear, making the conveyance of Joe Buck’s madness more coherent, while in places his writing leaves the messages a little more veiled.
Joe Buck’s song craft works in a circular pattern, spiraling into a moral about the descent of mankind that some may misunderstand as iniquitous or anti-religious. In truth it is the opposite. It is the Dante approach as apposed to the Gospel approach to pointing out the wayward trajectory of man. The acoustic-only “Jesus Is Dead” may be the best example of this, and one of the best Who Dat songs from an instrumental standpoint. In spots Who Dat is very personal, like the sweet and straightforward “Tied at the Hip” about Joe Buck and his wife. At other times it’s playful in a wicked way, like in the “Tango of Death”.
I don’t want to say Joe Buck has reinvented himself. I’m sure the stage show will be very similar to what we’ve seen from him in the past. And those who are familiar with Joe Buck’s work with Captain Sean from Throwrag may warm up quicker to this more subtle Joe Buck approach, that at times sways towards that Capt. Sean lounge-like feel.
What Joe Buck does with Who Dat is keep his music fresh. So many of his signature songs have been played for so many years with the same exact arrangement because they work so well. Now he has a new crop of excellent songs to work in as core standards, as well as a new approach to older songs if he wishes. This isn’t Joe Buck growing old with his music, it’s Joe illustrating tremendous self-awareness for a now almost 50-year-old performer; to be able to pull back, evaluate, and evolve to something new that at the same time is exactly what he’s always done.
Joe Buck will always be misunderstood by the masses. But when you look at the greater music world, his contributions are stout. To having a significant role in the #1 and #3 albums on SCM’s Greatest Underground Country Albums of All Time, to when you watch the new TV show “Nashville” on ABC and see Layla’s Bluegrass Inn featured—a place that Joe Buck bought back when lower Broadway in Nashville was virtually abandoned and help bring up along with that whole part of town–it’s plain to see that the music world would be a lot more plain if it wasn’t for Joe Buck’s musical madness.
Two guns up.
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Who Dat is only available on MP3 format and at Joe Buck live shows.
December 14, 2012 @ 12:30 pm
Joe Buck’s new material is easily his best. He played it acoustic at a show we did together a few months back and my band and I were blown away. I am proud of him as an artist. Amazing stuff.
December 14, 2012 @ 12:53 pm
Got a copy of this at one of his more recent shows in KC…lucky that he comes through our town pretty often but was taken back by no news of this new release anywhere. Once I listened to it the 1st time around I knew something was different. Call it change of direction, call it keeping his music fresh…whatever it is I feel like he is in a happier place and maybe that’s due to love or maybe that’s due to the sweet RV he rides around in hahaha. He’s happy and that’s good. Tango of Love has been on repeat more than once in my travels. 🙂
December 14, 2012 @ 1:12 pm
I got copy number 37 of 500 from him here in Portland. I’ve listened to it everyday since the show and it still blows my mind. It’s easy to get sucked into the anger and rage of the older albums, and completely miss the genius that comes through in the lyrics. Especially during his live shows. But with P&V and Who Dat?, they’re all right up front, you just have to pay attention.
The show was just like most, but he didn’t use the kick-drum, just stomped on the floor. Said he doesn’t like the PA, so he didn’t use a mic either. Just classic Buck giving it everything he’s got, taking request and showing his range.
Not that women can’t listen to his other albums, but this is the most female friendly of them all.
December 14, 2012 @ 9:49 pm
I was at that show in Portland at the Hawthorne, loved Hooten Hollers too! great acoustic set.
December 15, 2012 @ 4:13 am
‘Not female friendly’. May I ask what that means?
December 16, 2012 @ 2:42 pm
There”™s no need to try and turn this into an equal rights argument. I”™ve seen Joe Buck about 15 times and every single time men outnumber women 10 to 1. I believe that Who Dat? is an opportunity to change that a little, but men will continue to outnumber women. Why? Because most of his solo work is loud, angry, intelligent, and filled with “FUCK!” His live shows are the same way, but with Who Dat?, I believe that he has opened the door to a wider group of people. Becoming much more approachable. Thank the good Lord that he”™ll keep doing it his way, because I”™d hate to have his shows become a pain in the ass to attend. Joe Buck loves what he”™s doing right now and that comes through in this album.
I find it a bit ironic that you need to know what I meant by, ”˜Not female friendly”™, and then in your comment mention that Bitter is the Day is the most amazing ballad you”™ve ever heard. You also assumed that it was a cover (i.e., guys like Joe Buck Yourself! can”™t do songs like that on their own.).
December 16, 2012 @ 2:50 pm
“but men will continue to outnumber women. Why? Because most of his solo work is…intelligent”
So in your opinion, women are not intelligent enough to understand his music?
December 16, 2012 @ 3:20 pm
Yeah, that’s what I said Eric. Keep twisting my words to try and fit into the small, narrow box that you’ve constructed. Make an equal rights argument out of it.
Most people can’t get past the rage to pay attention to the lyrics, and I believe that to be a fact.
I don’t think you read and understood the article. As stated by the TM, most of the music that JBY does is not country, but his influences run deep. He’s done more in his sleep than most people will do in a lifetime.
December 16, 2012 @ 3:36 pm
I understand that Joe Buck has done great work with the Lower Broadway revitalization and may have had country influences in the past, but this album does not show any of these country influences. Every one of Taylor Swift’s 4 albums is more country than “Who Dat?”.
December 16, 2012 @ 2:57 pm
BTW, acting loud and angry and using swear language in songs goes against country music tradition.
December 16, 2012 @ 6:03 pm
“BTW, acting loud and angry and using swear language in songs goes against country music tradition.”
What rule book is this written in?
December 16, 2012 @ 9:10 pm
Intelligent music = music portraying the grim realities of life
December 16, 2012 @ 9:51 pm
Grim reality of whose life? I don’t hear any song on this album that discusses how people are suffering without jobs, how the middle class is disappearing, how small towns are declining, etc.
Take a listen to “Shuttin’ Detroit Down” by John Rich. Now THAT song truly depicts the grim realities of life today.
December 14, 2012 @ 1:16 pm
Just picked this up when He came to town with The Hooten Hallers, a few weeks back, and both comment above I completely agree with! I love Joe Buck, he is a great artist and amazing performer.. The most refreshing thing about this album, other than the insightful lyrics, is his lack of using the word “FUCK” in every song. Sometimes its packs a bigger punch without expletives.
March 31, 2017 @ 2:54 pm
Or “Leaders” by Penniless Punk out of Detroit.
December 14, 2012 @ 1:50 pm
I’ve been diggin the hell out of this album, it’s a cool new direction in sound for Joe Buck.
December 14, 2012 @ 2:50 pm
Just heard this in it’s entirety yesterday. Especially loving the slower tunes.Â
December 14, 2012 @ 8:31 pm
Joe Buck has outdone himself! This article hit it right on the head. I was so shocked listening to the iTunes samples. Bought the album instantly, can’t wait to get a hard copy @ a show in a few months.
I love the older albums but this one is an instant classic. The mood of the music puts you in a trance. Kinda reminds me of that old song, I put a spell on you. It’s controlled madness! His storytelling & just the way he paints the picture for you.
Two guns up may be the limit, but it is an understatement for this one!
December 14, 2012 @ 8:50 pm
Any idea when/if/how I can get a CD? Besides at a show? February is too long to wait
December 16, 2012 @ 9:23 am
You can purchase a digital copy through iTunes or Amazon.
December 16, 2012 @ 10:59 am
I have it on iTunes. I want a cd though. I heard it should be on 12″ vinyl soon.
December 15, 2012 @ 4:09 am
Everything about Joe Buck is sexy. I own his first album – the one he released before Piss and Vinegar and I love it. I’ve also downloaded a few of his tracks – including Bitter is the Day – which is an incredible song. The first time I heard it I thought it must be a cover. It’s probably the most amazing ballad I have ever had the pleasure of hearing.
I’ve only seen Joe Buck perform with Hank 3, playing bass. Seeing him play live is on my bucket list.
Can’t wait to pick up this new album.
December 15, 2012 @ 6:36 pm
Just heard the new album…twice. Possibly his best. Its a little different from his other stuff. I kind of like the whole “quiet anger” vibe. Also a fan of his louder stuff, I think these songs will fit perfectly into his live set in-between moments of rage.
I had the chance to see him play recently(in a certain sh%*ty town) and he was great. He first played his bass for viva le vox’s set, then did his solo act. Got to meet him and he seemed like a real cool, down to earth guy with a great work ethic who loves what he does. He tours almost non-stop. I hope to catch another show when he tours with viva le vox and rachel brooke.
December 16, 2012 @ 3:03 pm
This is not country. It’s a mix of rock and blues. The only song that uses any country instrumentation is the offensively titled “Jesus is Dead”.
December 17, 2012 @ 7:18 am
Is that a complaint? I have listened to the samples and it seems to me that the music fits quite nicely under the umbrella described in the first paragraph of the site’s mission statement at the bottom of the page.
December 17, 2012 @ 4:53 pm
No, but sometimes I wonder whether my musical tastes are fundamentally irreconcilable with those of most people on this site. Pop country is harshly bashed here, while this album is promoted as one of the essential albums of the year. On the other hand, I would much rather listen to pop country radio than to this album.
I guess I’ll keep coming here just to catch the articles on artists whose music I genuinely like, such as Paige Anderson or The Foghorn Stringband.
December 17, 2012 @ 5:26 pm
Just because something isn’t country doesn’t mean it isn’t either good or important. That is how I came to grips with Taylor Swift.
December 17, 2012 @ 11:08 pm
I agree, but I’m probably the last person on this site that you should be telling that to. I’ve been a country fan for only about 3 years. For far longer than that, I have been a fan of 80’s/early 90’s soft rock, along with classical piano music, Irish folk music, Appalachian ballads, and many different types of Asian music. I even love the music in Christian songs, even though I don’t necessarily agree with the message in the lyrics.
On the other hand, I’m lukewarm toward the blues, I generally dislike jazz and early rock n roll, and I despise hip-hop and punk metal.
The way I judge music is by how strongly it affects me emotionally. I’m a very analytical person by nature, and that is the side of my brain that I engage most heavily in my daily work. Music is the key for me in getting in touch with the depths of the emotional side of my brain.
December 16, 2012 @ 3:26 pm
“He once told me he could write songs for Taylor Swift”
Please, no. I appreciate that he “gets” Taylor, but based on this Joe Buck album this would be a match made in musical hell. The Max Martin collaborations were already bad enough.
December 17, 2012 @ 8:22 am
Who cares what kind of music it is. If you feel it, you feel it. He could be wearing Taylor swift’s tickle me Elmo panties for all I care. This cd is lyrically deep, and instrumentally sound. And unlike anything he has put out. Props go out to joe buck, he should be proud of this album.
December 16, 2012 @ 3:35 pm
Been aware of his music for quite some time though never really got into it… Here I go spending my money at the work of the Trig and the comments of y’all!
December 30, 2012 @ 8:36 pm
It doesn’t have the pure energy of his earlier stuff but it’s damn good. It didn’t grab me by the balls and have me bouncing off the walls like the first time I heard Piss and Vinegar but I think it could be his best yet.
May 1, 2013 @ 7:06 pm
Joe is awesome and I’m glad he’s showing the same kind of sound he did with his first band, Gringo, on the self-titled Gringo CD. He and Leila played some moody dreamy tunes on that with power that came from the musical composition. And he played some flat out rockers too. Gringo’s second CD, Combine, was pretty much pure newgrass and country – the drums are gone, replaced by a banjo. But it’s awesome too with brilliant song-writing – check out The Estate Sale.
I think you can still find it on Pravda Records site, but they’re both absolutely fuckin’ brilliant.