Growth and change do Buck 65 some good

Growth, development, and change are words that can make a listener cringe when related to a favourite musician or band. For the artist, however, they are all but essential. Most record companies, on the other hand, are content with artistic redirection as long as the money keeps rolling in. Just ask Neil Young, who in 1984 was sued by his then-label Geffen for delivering albums that were "uncharacteristic" and "non-commercial". Although Buck 65's Talkin' Honky Blues isn't a disc of traditional country songs, it does communicate a stylistic and conceptual advancement for this Haligonian troubadour of no fixed address.

Buck, born Rich Terfry, has branched out from the sample-based rap music he is best known for thanks to albums like Vertex and 2002's Square. Talkin' Honky Blues showcases a more orthodox songwriting approach. The trademark verbal dexterity and storytelling abilities remain intact, but they're augmented by live guitar, pedal steel, and keys. For Buck, the change is twofold.

"I'm on a bigger label [Warner Music Canada] now and have to be aware that I run a greater risk of being sued," he says, interviewed on a recent promo tour at a Kits breakfast spot. "I could go ahead and attempt to clear all the samples, but it's incredibly expensive. I'd dig a hole for myself that I'd never be able to get out of. That's a reality that stinks. But the other thing is that I'm always trying to push myself as a 'musician'. I thought I'd take a crack at actually writing some music on the album as a challenge to myself."

Buck's artistic experimentation has paid off. Talkin' Honky Blues is peppered with tall tales set to an atmospheric backdrop of twisted sonics. The seven-part "Riverbed" contains all the gris gris present in his Language Arts series of underground releases, but the leadoff single, "Wicked and Weird", exhibits an emerging pop sensibility that may pick him up some new fans.

"I anticipated that there would be some people I would lose along the way," says Buck, who plays the Commodore on Wednesday (March 31). "But what I've seen so far is that for every person that I've lost, I've probably gained five or 10 new ones. It's tough 'cause I want everyone to understand what my motivations are. I want folks to want me to grow as much as I need to."

On Blues, this maturation manifests itself with songs that reflect Buck's boundless enthusiasm for music, regardless of genre.

"I draw on such a wide range of influences that my music doesn't fit into any category. If people would just forget about what they've come to expect from country music or hip-hop music and take it for what it is, they very well might like it. But because of all the conditioning, people are like 'What is this?' and they freak out. Forget it. Just listen to it and see what you think."