Becky Buller
Little Bird (Bell Buckle Records)

By Bob Mitchell

As I walked into the Galt House for the 2004 International Bluegrass Music Association Trade Show and Fan Fest I began to smile because I was surrounded by the happy sounds of numerous Bluegrass jam sessions. I also felt some sadness because I realized those happy sounds would not be heard in Louisville in 2005. (IBMA will be moving to Nashville.)

However, a few minutes later my sadness was abated by a performance from one of the industry's brightest young stars, Becky Buller, an extraordinary fiddler and songwriter who works with Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike. I was fortunate to receive an invitation to her CD release party for Little Bird. And, it must be emphatically stated that the following comments were not influenced by the delicious southern Bar-B-Que catered by Tennessee's Bell Buckle Cafe. After her showcase, I interviewed Buller for about an hour. The following commentaries are a combination of the interview and a review of her first solo release.

This year Buller was among the top 20 nominees for IBMA fiddler of the year and she garnered a nomination for Gospel Performance of the Year award for her song "Fishers of Men" recorded by Rhonda Vincent. Other artists who have recorded her songs include IIIrd Tyme out, Doyle Lawson, David Parmley, and Mark Newton. On her current project, Buller wrote 10 tracks, co-wrote the dark haunting "On The South Dakota Wind" with Valerie Smith and co-wrote "Opal, Ruby and Pearl" with Carl Jackson. Not bad for a 25 year old classically trained pianist who enjoys 70s rock favorites, "loves James Taylor and Simon and Garfunkle." She found her Bluegrass inspiration and encouragement from Eddie Stubbs, WSM Radio and former Johnson Mountain Boy. Her favorite IBMA memory was in 1998 when she was selected for the Songwriter's Showcase and performed on stage during the award show for a tribute to legendary fiddler Chubby Wise. She smiled broadly saying, "I got to kick off Little Cabin On The Hill."

Buller was slightly shy in the interview situation but when she steps into a recording studio or on a stage she is a skilled and powerful performer filled with confidence. That skill and power is especially evident in three original instrumentals, "Clivus Mulchum," "Where The Rivers Divide," and "Soddy-Daisy." As we spoke about instruments I mentioned visiting a museum that had a Stradivarius violin and five-string guitar. With a twinkle in her eye, she said "I would love to get into the Smithsonian Institute and play Bluegrass on a Strad."

Buller is a vibrant, gentle woman whose remarks demonstrated sensitivity and caring. For example, she recalled "crying for weeks" after a performance of her well-known song "Charlie Lawson's Still." Subsequently, she learned some of the audience had been offended by a reference to alcohol. "The most important things in my life are my faith, a caring family who offered support (her parents had a band and as a child she was exposed to music and traveling) and taking care of myself." Those values are reflected in her introspective gospel songs: "The Master's Garden," and "Take Me Over Jordan." When it comes to taking care of herself, Buller enjoys hiking, lying on her back, looking up at the sky and appreciating the calming wonders of nature. A year ago she was so deeply affected by the majestic beauty of the Colorado mountains, she penned the poignant "You Are My Guide."

Although Buller has a degree in Public Relations, her "heart lies with performance." She plays about 150 dates a year and says, "I'm happy where I am. There are no plans to go out on my own. Val is so supportive and encouraging..." Buller feels good about the future of Bluegrass music and points to the popularity of groups like King Wilkie (This year's IBMA Emerging Artists) , Kenny and Amanda Smith.

When asked how she would review her own work, she was characteristically modest: "I'm very proud of it and hope people will enjoy it half as much as I enjoyed making it. I am overwhelmed and satisfied because I achieved something I have dreamed of for 10 years. Such amazing people helped me..." Amazing is right. The band included Rob Ickes (2004 IBMA Dobro player of the year) , Ron Block (IBMA keynoter on guitar) , Adam Steffey (2003-04 IBMA mandolin player of the year) , Wayne Benson (formerly with IIIrd Tyme Out) , Carl Jackson (harmony vocal) , Stephen Mougan (guitar and harmony vocals) , Patton Wages (banjo) , Daniel Hardin (bass) , Andrea Zonn (fiddle) and more.

Several of my favorites tracks include a frolicsome "Where The Rivers Divide," with multiple tempo changes; the delightful "Opal, Ruby and Pearl," a true story of three friends in a small town; the energetic "Clivus Mulchum," (with outstanding guitar and banjo work) ; a tender love song, "Iris," and a heartfelt "Take Me Over Jordon" (with exemplary support from Steffy, Ickes, and Zonn) .

If you've never heard Becky Buller latch onto a copy of "Little Bird" and get to know this young woman with a bright and unlimited future. As you listen, you might want to have your own Bar-B-Que sandwich.

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