Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Tim Buckley

Tim Buckley is considered to be one of the best vocalists that came out of the late 60s.  And perhaps one of the more erratic artists that I most certainly ever came across.  While his early albums are folk rock, Buckley wasn't that concerned or interested to continue to hit the folk trail.  And in the meantime pissing off fans by following his own muse,be it folk, or oddball avant garde vocal exercises, as if his testicles were being tied up in knots.   But after the extremism that was Lorca, turning into Star Sailor and later the final three albums Buckley got into funky porn soul as exhibited via his 1972 Greetings From LA.   While All Music tends to short change Sefronia and his final album Look At The Fool,  I tend to favor Sefronia over Greetings or Look At The Fool, to which the latter album Buckley seemed to be out of his league with the choices of his songs or the band that did those songs.   The way it was going, had Buckley not O Ded on Heroin, he might have gone disco and in a bad way.

It's easier for me to say that his folk rock albums are his best, the Bizarre/Straight albums his most notorious and the DiscReet trio a strange foray into blue eyed soul with an eye on porno for lyrical inspiration.  The first album Tim Buckley is straight forward folk rock, but Buckley throws a lot of his vocals into the songs such as Are You The Girl or Song For Jainie.  Song Slowly Song does shows a hint into the future, with sparse guitar work and Buckley moaning away.  Goodbye And Hello the followup begins Buckley turning away from the folk and getting into more abstract blues and even jazz with I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain  or Pleasant Street.   Happy/Sad, the third album is another wild ride but still listener friendly even though the songs are getting longer.

Buckley's final Elektra offerning Lorca, is his version of Metal Machine Music, a wild five song album with the title track showing off the torturous vocal, as if Buckley's skin was being peeled right off him.   The record is not for everybody, although side 2 has the more memorable I Had  A Talk With My Woman and to a lesser extend Nobody Walkin'.

Between the blurred avant garde jazz whatever you call it, the Bizarre Straight albums (out of print since Herb Cohen and Rhino and Warner Brothers had a big disagreement) are what people considered his classic period.  I disagree. Certainly there are shining moments on Blue Afternoon, and Bunk Gardner of The Mothers Of Invention fame helps Star Sailor and Song To The Siren the best song of the album.  What stood out was the crabby reviewer Robert Christgau giving Star Sailor a C- and thinking Buckley was doing Nico imitations and not Odetta, to which she was the inspiration to his vocals.   Star Sailor is a bit more worthy than a C minus, maybe a solid B and an A for effort. But in the long run, it's seems to me to be a bit of a novelty than classic.  Alas, the problem stems from Herb Cohen falling out of favor with Frank Zappa and after a 1989 reissue via Enigma/Retro both Star Sailor and Blue Afternoon are long deleted, hard to find and collectors scour the country for used copies. 4 Men With Beards issued both albums on LP, and perhaps one day Warner Brothers will finally get come to terms to both the Zappa and Cohen estates to get both records reissued once again.  Blue Afternoon to me is the better album but that's a matter of opinion.

While the Bizarre Straight albums are out of print, the DiscReet records are still available, somehow Herb Cohen kept those masters at hand and with Jerry Goldstein behind the production board,  Greetings From L.A. was when Buckley decided to quit the fusion acoustic light jazz and go for a more funkier sound.  My opinion about Greetings is mixed, at times the grubby porn funk of Move With Me or Get On Top would have perfect for those XXX movies of that time.  Buckley does sound inspired most through the album.  Sefronia, released a year later is commendable with cover versions of Tom Wait's Martha and Fred Neil's The Dolphins and Buckley does a nice Fred Neil soundalike.  And I Know I'd Recognize Your Face is a rather pleasant blue eyed soul number complete with a female counterpoint.  The title track Sefronia does return to the days of Goodbye And Hello the song itself.  Buckley doesn't give up on the funky stuff, Honey Man and Quicksand could have fit in on Greetings From LA.  Tim kinda cools it on the theatrics but just in case you forgot, he does soar on his vocal on Honey Man and Sally Go Round The Roses.   As for Look At The Fool, it sounds like Buckley is on auto pilot and most of the songs are not memorable.  It does get points for Chuck Rainey and Earl Palmer on bass and drums.  Not a total wasted effort.

Since Buckley's passing in 1975, Elektra Rhino has put out two overviews.  One of them Morning Glory is a 2 CD overview of his recordings and even the Bizarre/Straight/DiscReet albums do have highlights. Disc 1 covers the first three albums plus some unreleased live performances, the folk rock years and Disc 2 is the Straight/DiscReet Lorca era.   However the single disc Best Of Tim Buckley effectively distills most of his best song in a easier to take single disc but still totaling 79 minutes.  Or all the Tim Buckley you need if you only need one good overview.   The first album and Goodbye And Hello are worthy, the rest you're better off to sample via You Tube or song samples Lorca and Star Sailor will try your patience.  As well as Look At The Fool or Greetings From L.A.  Nevertheless, Tim Buckley was that rarity, a person that followed his own vision of music.  The man could flat out sing.  And sometimes scream as well.

Albums: (Incomplete)

Tim Buckley (Elektra 1967) A-
Goodbye And Hello (Elektra 1967) A-
Happy/Sad (Elektra 1968) B+
Blue Afternoon (Straight 1969) B+
Lorca (Elektra 1969) C-
Star Sailor (Straight 1970) C+
Greetings From L.A. (DiscReet/WB 1972) B
Sefronia (DiscReet 1973) B+
Look At The Fool (DiscReet 1974) B-
The Best Of Tim Buckley (Elektra/Rhino 2006) B+
The Dream Belongs To Me (Manifesto 2012) B

Notes: While Blue Afternoon has been out print, Rhino Germany has included it in a box set called Original Album Classics, to which the first five albums are included.  Very odd considering that Blue Afternoon is on Straight/Bizarre. It's probably cheaper to buy the box set then.  However I did find a CD copy of Blue Afternoon and it's kinda of a return to the sound that made Goodbye And Hello a classic album, The Train, does suggest the one take vocal gymnastics that Buckley would attempt on Lorca and Star Sailor.   The Dream Belongs To Me captures two distinct periods in Buckley's history, one side is from the folk years, while side 2 is from the funk experiments of the early 70s. The 1973 live showing is somewhat disappointing, it sounds like some of the songs were thought up on the spot.   Star Sailor and Blue Afternoon can be found at a cheaper price if you like MP3s, the LPs vary in sound. But if you want a stand alone CD of these two albums, better take out a second mortgage since EBAY or Amazon used copies are over 20 dollars.  Good luck trying to find one at your local record store, you're going to need it. 

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