Eight-time IBMA award winner Becky Buller opens her latest album with “Don’t Look Back,” a song she wrote with Kraig and Valerie Smith, after seeing a greeting card in a thrift store of a little girl at the junction of two roads with signs reading “Your Life” and “No Longer An Option.” This sentiment also explains how the fiddler, singer, songwriter and band leader has embraced the present, despite its challenges, with focus, confidence and optimism. Still rooted in bluegrass, Becky Buller’s Distance and Time is yet another splendid project that documents her meteoric and evolving musical career. As on her outstanding 2017 Crêpe Paper Heart album, her impressive band includes Ned Luberecki (banjo), Prof. Dan Boner (guitar), Nate Lee (mandolin), and Daniel Hardin (bass).
The highly arranged and polished contemporary material rewards us with evocative lyrics, lilting instrumentals, and plenty of emotional electricity. Among the cadre of hardworking musicians who represent the future of the genre, Buller plays bluegrass with elements of country, folk, Gospel and Americana. Buller had a hand in writing all but the spirited covers of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and Need To Breathe’s “More Heart, Less Attack.” The former was arranged with just Buller’s vocals and clawhammer banjo, accompanied by Jerry Douglas’ resophonic guitar. “Tell the Truth (Shame the Devil)” includes The Fairfield Four on harmony vocals and hand claps. Chris Brown’s drums lay in nicely alongside The Isaacs’ harmony vocals on “Salt and Light,” a song Buller co-penned with Mark Simos. The band kicks into overdrive on “Life Gets Up and Gets Gone.” Another standout track that the band clearly had fun recording is “I Dream in Technicolor,” an intriguing newgrassy offering full of imagination, along with some hand claps, studio effects and laughter. “The Barber’s Fiddle, a celebration of that instrument that also features several guest vocalists and fiddlers, won IBMA’s 2020 Award for Collaborative Recording of the Year. “Inglewood Upon Stratford” is a lively instrumental that allows each band member to shine. A broken heart was inspiration for “We Let Each Other Go,” a country-infused song that reinforces the need for distance and time when sad, lonely and moving on. A great example of where contemporary bluegrass is headed, this album has artful songwriting, sophisticated arrangements, first-rate vocals and masterful instrumental work. While Buller and her band have the talent and repertoire to become country crossover artists like Allison Krauss and Union Station, only time will tell, and I hope she doesn’t distance herself too far from bluegrass in years ahead. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)