Friday, February 27, 2009

Tim Buckley

Tim Buckley could have been a big pop star. He possessed a powerful and versatile voice and could put together catchy, well-written psych-folk tunes, as attested by his first two albums. Yet his brief recording career was more than anything driven by restlessness. While his early albums did well with the critics and the public, he never allowed himself to settle in a comfort zone, and continuously strove to push boundaries and test both the limits of his own capabilities and the patience of his fans.
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


  1. no comments?? gotta be kidding. you picked his best album, and then the 2 that are out of print and fetch big money used. Nice work.

  2. One of the greatest singer/songwriter of all time. Hats off to Tim Buckley.

    To TB fans: Enjoy free downloads from our friend ZZYRUS, but remember, always buy, when budget is not so tight. Support TB and his family. They deserve our support. LOL!

  3. Regarding TB's works, my most favorites are Happy Sad (1969)and the early album Hello and Goodbye (1967).

    Hello/Goodbye is so beautifully crafted and so good for meditation and for general listening. TB's best IMHO.

  4. Oops. My bad. Goodbye and Hello instead of the other way around. Sorry!