Wimberley, Texas is about 45 minutes out from Austin by car or truck — far enough to allow a music scene independent of Austin's own to thrive in that hill country. Alexander Buck Meek grew up in that scene, among the jazz manouche, blues and outlaw country guitarists of the region. Even though Buck Meek's work with Big Thief has taken him far away from his Texas home, the lead single from his self-titled debut album sounds as if it echoes out from the state's hill country.
"Cannonball!" is a blast of dry heat — a sly easy-going number led by Meek's crackling guitar work and his cock-eyed vocals. The song is a thrilling elaboration of all the things that make Meek's guitar playing so compelling in Big Thief, where he serves as guitarist alongside lead singer and songwriter Adrianne Lenker. His playing in both projects is driven by a love for the sounds that make a guitar distinct — its grumbling string noise; its equal propensity to pop, slide and sigh. When he plays live, he channels the tension of his body into his dynamic playing, which is jumpy and electrifying as an ungrounded wire. Here, he matches that dynamism with his voice's own odd inflections and a twisted yarn of a story. That carefree, mischievous sound and song title befit Meek's great gift — the easy exuberance that underlies his every note.
Meek is ably matched by his co-conspirators on the track. Mat Davidson of Twain is an old touring buddy and here spurs the song on with a jaunty bass line. Guitarist Adam Brisbin delivers an at once searing and laconic slide solo at the song's mid-point. Dylan Meek, Buck's brother and an accomplished keyboardist, fills out the atmosphere with a Wurlitzer run through a Roland space echo that recalls Garth Hudson and ably complements drummer Austin Vaughn's Helm-indebted light mid-tempo pocket. All together, the band sounds like a man working out a persistent crick in the neck — a shrugging, loosening groove. In less than three minutes, "Cannonball!" evokes a lifetime of listening at the source of a certain kind of American music, twisted up and then unfurled into a strange new musical world.
Buck Meek's self-titled debut album comes out on May 18 via Keeled Scales.