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Tim Buckley

With a voice like an angel, multi-octave singer-songwriter TIM BUCKLEY (born February 14, 1947, Washington DC, USA), broke the trend of 60s psych-cum-folk troubadours in a relentless quest to find a musical plateau and tranquillity in whatever the genre – jazz or folk – regardless of the emotional cost.
Emanating from the West Coast (Orange County) folk scene in the mid-60s, a movement that created other like-minded souls such as JACKSON BROWNE, teenage Timothy – who’d cut his teeth with the Bohemians alongside bassist Jim Fielder and drummer/poet Larry Beckett – found a useful friend in Jimmy Carl Black (of The MOTHERS OF INVENTION), who suggested to manager Herb Cohen to sign him.
Inking a deal with Elektra Records in ‘66, BUCKLEY, together with a few ZAPPA/MOTHERS musos (including Billy Mundi, Lee Underwood, the aforementioned Fielder and VAN DYKE PARKS) recorded the eponymous TIM BUCKLEY (1966) {*7} debut. Produced by Paul Rothchild and Elektra boss Jac Holzman (with string arrangements by Jack Nitzsche and several co-writing credits with Bohemian buddy Beckett), some would marvel at its sense of sophistication and fragility from one so young. Yes, it was folk-rock (albeit baroque and acidic), but no one could intimate the feeling of angst and emotion like BUCKLEY; songs such as `Wings’, `She Is’, `Song Slowly Song’ and `Aren’t You The Girl’ raised the bar to a new high.
GOODBYE AND HELLO (1967) {*8} wore its influences on its sleeve but won critical plaudits for its cascading vocal versatility and meandering grace. With the spirit and vision normally attributed to the likes of “Revolver” or “Pet Sounds”, the unfaltering production work of Jerry Yester and Holzman graced some prize gems, none more so than `Once I Was’, `Pleasant Street’, `Hallucinations’, opener `No Man Can Find The War’, `Morning Glory’ and the 8-minute title track; the latter trio again co-credited Beckett.
Released a couple of years later in ’69 {*8}, HAPPY SAD’s introspective intimations abandoned conventional song structures for abstract folk-jazz workouts. Despite their more experimental nature, the songs retained a tangible warmth of feeling, especially the lovely `Buzzin’ Fly’ or `Strange Feelin’’. A period of transition for BUCKLEY, the complex nature of this downbeat set made for lengthier, “Astral Weeks”-like compositions exemplified by `Gypsy Woman’ and `Love From Room 109 At The Islander (On Pacific Coast Highway)’; it must be noted that his love of the work of FRED NEIL was always apparent (check out `Sing A Song For You’ and `Dream Letter’).
A frenetic period of creativity followed, with BUCKLEY releasing three albums in the space of just over a year. His first for ZAPPA & Cohen’s Straight Records, BLUE AFTERNOON (1969) {*8}, carried on in much the same vein, the fact was that most of the songs/demos (`Happy Time’, `Chase The Blues Away’, `Blue Melody’ and `The River’) were “works in progress” from his last outing; `I Must Have Been Blind’ was later covered by 4 a.d. ensemble THIS MORTAL COIL.
Taking a sidestep into torch-jazz improvisation with LORCA (1970) {*4}, BUCKLEY alienated a good number of his loyal fanbase, side one for instance a vocal exercise in two parts: the title track and the sad/sad `Anonymous Proposition’; side two’s highlights were `I Had A Talk With My Woman’ and `Nobody Walkin’’.
STARSAILOR (1971) {*7} was another to tread lightly into the world of avant-jazz, although on this occasion there was a slight hint of melody and indeed, a return to form (okay, forget `I Woke Up’). Spreading himself moody and majestic like some JIM MORRISON on quasi-banshee pills, BUCKLEY was never more vocally acrobatic than on `Monterey’ or `Song To The Siren’ (another to be utilised by the aforementioned THIS MORTAL COIL). With Beckett back as sidekick songwriter, the difference was night and day as TB breezed through the easiest-listening track on the set, the French-flavoured `Moulin Rouge’ – if only he’d cut out the self-indulgent dirges such as `Jungle Fire’, `Healing Festival’ and the title track, who knows?
In true BUCKLEY fashion, he veered wildly into new territory with the uncompromisingly sassy GREETINGS FROM L.A. (1972) {*6}, which exhibited an interest in raw and groovy black music. Backed by a newfound honky-tonk beat, the commerciality of `Move With Me’ settles the listener before the business end of the frank and explicit `Get On Top’ kicks in. The vocal gymnastics of `Sweet Surrender’ hit the spot with ease, but it’s the two closing cues, `Hong Kong Bar’ and `Make It Right’, that get into the groove.
Disappointing to all but the faithful, SEFRONIA (1974) {*5}, was found wanting, most critics not impressed by his move along the musical corridor into white funk, especially with the backing of local L.A. session people. With the exception of `Honey Man’, `Quicksand’, `Sally Go ‘Round The Roses’ (an old Jaynetts nugget) and a rendition of FRED NEIL’s `Dolphins’ – forget the ill-advised covers of `I Know I’d Recognize Your Face’ and TOM WAITS’ `Martha’ – there was little to shout about.
His voice now a pale shadow of the BUCKLEY one had been accustomed to on his previous eight sets, LOOK AT THE FOOL (1974) {*3} destroyed any credibility the tortured troubadour once had. But for the excellent `Who Could Deny You’, the soulful LP would’ve ended up further lambasted. Friends from his backing band, Fielder (straight outta BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS) and Beckett were finding his onstage persona somewhat aggressive compared to the person they’d known a decade earlier. Although pencilled in as the man to play WOODY GUTHRIE in the forthcoming Bound For Glory flick, the doomed singer subsequently died of an accidental heroin overdose on June 29, 1975.
His poetic awareness and uncompromising efforts to push musical boundaries had taken him down a solitary path that bypassed commercial success and eventually led to disillusionment and death, although he left behind a musical legacy of shimmering beauty.
In 1990, DREAM LETTER {*8}, an album of live material from 1968, was unearthed to critical acclaim, and along with a plethora of other concert CDs (LIVE AT THE TROUBADOUR 1969 {*6}, HONEYMAN {*6} and LIVE AT THE FOLKLORE CENTER, NYC {*7}), has only served to feed the myth of one of pop music’s true enigmas.
© MC Strong 1994-2010/BG-GRD-GFD // rev-up MCS Jul2012

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