Buckethead – Colma
Even surpassing everyone’s favorite crazy, multi-talented Russian Senmuth, Buckethead is, perhaps, the most prolific musician on earth. At the time of this writing Buckethead’s discography features one hundred and seventy-eight full length albums (and only eight extraneous releases). Since the project’s inception in 1988, Buckethead’s music has spanned more genres than I really care to name at this point, touching upon funk, bluegrass, shred, progressive rock, so on and so on and so on. Buckethead’s music has flirted with metal influences in the past, but it wasn’t until 2013 when part of his “Pike” series fully delved into the realms of the metallic. It’s challenging to follow Buckethead, as the shear amount and frequency of releases can be overwhelming, but the man with KFC bucket atop his head crafts songs and albums like no other, so it’s rewarding to stick with it.
After all the years of virtuoso shredding and rabid experimentalism, my mind is constantly pulled towards Buckethead’s fourth full length album, Colma, which was released way back in 1998. Buckethead was already ten years into his career at that point, but in those days there was breathing room between releases. Colma was released a year prior to Monsters and Robots, which remains Buckethead’s most successful album and one that can be scene as his breakthrough into the public spotlight. Buckethead’s work up to 1998, and much of it after, as eclectic as it is, focuses on avant-garde progressive rock with shredding guitars and tons of off the wall elements. Colma, and in the same token 2002’s Electric Tears, stick out like a sore thumb amongst all of the weirdness, relying on calming, relaxing pieces full of melodic guitar passages and soothing structures.
Buckethead stated that he wrote and recorded this album for his mother while she was being treated for cancer. He wanted to create an album that he thought she would enjoy listening to while in recovery. Colma utilizes acoustic guitars for most of the album, although it’s run through delay and reverb to give it a rather dry tone. Flourishes of lead guitar wizardry creep in and out, be it a quick scaled lick or the display of fast picking, writhing movements on “Big Sur Moon” or progressive rock shredding on “Sanctum”. Despite these moments of faster guitar playing, the original idea behind this album was not forgotten; it remains melodic and introspective. Brain, of Primus fame, handled the percussion on the album, which is a mix of simplistic beats and loops that saunter along at a steady pace. With Colma, Buckethead proves there is beauty in simplicity. Subtle accoutrements, like the wavering strings “Lone Sal Bug” or the rhythmic bass and electronic tinges on “Machete”, keep things from stagnating, as, really, the whole album moves along at the same pace.
What keeps me coming back, seventeen years after its original release, is Buckethead’s ability to pour his heart and soul into his guitar. There are no vocals, lyrics or schlock piano interludes to intrude on the concern, worry and hopefulness that Buckethead put to tape. Perhaps the genuine nature of this album is best heard on “Watching Boats With My Dad”, which features acoustic strumming and a rather simplistic structure. The song is nostalgic and one can almost visualize the heartfelt moment from Buckethead’s past that he had firmly in mind when writing the track. Colma‘s magic lies not only in its ability to be introspective and somewhat melancholy, mainly because of the worry he must have felt in a trying time, but also because of the lingering spark of hopefulness that each track brings. Moments of melancholy are interjected with joy, as one would fondly remember times with a good friend who passed on.
Colma would probably surprise the casual Buckethead listener, as nothing else (aside from Electric Tears) really sounds like this. It’s not just avant-garde, shredding, weirdness. Introspective, melancholy, calming, soothing, relaxing; yet this album is still engaging and diverse enough to justify it’s fifty-four minute running time. Nearly a hundred and eighty albums later and Buckethead has still not touched the emotional majesty of Colma. This album is just as relevant and touching today as it was when I first listened to it around 1999 or 2000. While a lot of his discography is really good, it’s hard to imagine he will ever touch what was done here again.