Clarence Bucaro’s New Orleans has an interesting history. Originally recorded in a single six-hour session, the songs seemed too personal, leading Bucaro to shelve the project for a while. Once he’d made an impact with ‘Til Spring, his 2008 debut, he elected to revisit the material. The result is a strong, atmospheric collection with a unique vibe thanks to Bucaro’s distinctive vocals.
Bucaro’s voice is a bit of a make-or-break proposition. Not quite falsetto, he inhabits a high register that some might find a bit disorienting. But a careful listen reveals a gifted singer who employs nuance and subtle shadings rather than raw power to get his message across; there’s care and craft in every line he sings, and his phrasing is a finely controlled marvel.
Material here is indeed intensely personal, a travelogue of sorts through a restless (and ultimately doomed) relationship, with the city of New Orleans providing a moody musical backdrop. Grooves are slow and soulful, punctuated by occasional blasts of Bucaro’s dirty harmonica and excellent organ courtesy of Mike Burkart. Adding to the atmosphere is Kirk Joseph, a founding member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, on sousaphone (an instrument rarely heard outside of the Crescent City), while guitarist and fellow New Orleans transplant Anders Osborne contributes guitar and piano as well as handling production chores.
Bucaro kicks things off with “Light In Your Eyes,” in the process declaring that “I will bare my soul / Cold and naked …”. That statement could well sum up the disc, as Bucaro is starkly confessional throughout, whether he’s tender and intimate (the lovely “It’s Only You Tonight”), ruminating on “Unfulfilled Love,” or musing on the passage of time (“Standing On Old Ground”). At times it’s a bit like reading diary entries set to music – in a good way - and the intimacy is heightened by the fragile delicacy of Bucaro’s voice.
There’s pain here, aching loneliness and longing in equal measure. But rather than wallow in despair, Bucaro is clearly struggling to understand the how’s and why’s of love and loss. The results are intellectually engaging and musically gorgeous. It’s not exactly a party platter, but given the right time and mood, this is an absolutely wonderful disc.