The year 2004 was a good one for Buckners. Bill Buckner -- the infamous ball-flubbing Red Sox first baseman --received a pardon when his former team finally won the World Series. And Richard Buckner, one of the most disturbingly depressed performers of the past decade, no longer seems to be phoning in his lyrics to a suicide hotline. Oppressive angst has released its stranglehold on his singing voice, and surging melodies hammer a crack in his wall of darkness like a lightning bolt against a pitch-black sky. Buckner stretches simple words with his drawn-out delivery not to showcase his vocal range but to complement abstract arrangements that sprawl single sentences over several lines. He also substitutes instrumental reflection for vocal choruses, with King Coffey's thunderous drumming taking the place of the primal screams Buckner no longer summons. For every almost-upbeat acoustic hook, there's a quivering drone, a colorless canvas that Buckner splatters with vivid imagery. If anything, Buckner's brighter moments increase the emotional intensity of his sorrowful songs. Potent anguish numbs in large doses, and the unrelenting agony on his earlier albums made it difficult to appreciate his subtle songwriting genius. Dents and Shells lets listeners absorb his fractured folk strumming and vulnerable vocals without punishing them with pain. It bares Buckner's soul without stripping to his raw nerves.