Dream Letter, a two-hour live recording from 1968, is a thorough encapsulation of his early "folkie" style, while also amply displaying the nascent experiments in vocal improvisation that he would develop on subsequent albums. Stand out tracks include the “Pleasant Street / You Keep Me Hanging On” medley at the end of the first disc, and a ferocious take on “Wayfaring Stranger” near the end of the second.
Blue Afternoon, one of the three albums he put out in 1970, sees him fully embracing modal jazz in the vein of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. As on that album, the songs here are grounded in simple chord progressions and vamps, over which the melodies are able to run free. Buckley’s singing is warm and inviting, and a calm, languid feel pervades, thanks to the straightforward production and choice of backing musicians (understated electric guitar, vibes, stand-up bass and congas).
Starsailor, recorded the same year, couldn’t be more different. The reference points this time around are free jazz and modern classical music. This is pretty dark stuff. It’s also one of the most amazing, unique, forward-thinking records I’ve ever had the pleasure of stumbling upon. By now Buckley’s voice is more an instrument than a vehicle for words, and he uses it to full extent over a bed of discordant guitar tapestries and frenetic tribal rhythms. His wailing, caterwauling and grunting will haunt your dreams.This was a sort of point-of-no-return album, where he in essence gave his audience the choice to get with what he was doing or fuck off. And fuck off they did. The harsh, esoteric sounds of this record alienated the majority of his already dwindling fan-base, and financial realities finally caught up with him, putting an end to his carefree experimental streak. After several unsuccessful comeback attempts in the early 70s, he died of an overdose at the age of 28 – bitter, broke and looking twice his age. But his recorded legacy is substantial, and definitely worth exploring if you dig any of these three albums.
Dream Letter: Live in London 1968