The Tim Buckley Archives

Album Reviews

New Musical Express (UK) - 2001

Tim Buckley: Morning Glory

Tim Buckley: The Dream Belongs to Me

Rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair),
three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

Remembering the music of idiosyncratic Tim Buckley

By Randy Lewis

"This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you" was the line Don McLean wrote about Vincent van Gogh in Vincent, but it could apply as fittingly to '60s-'70s singer-songwriter Tim Buckley, whose ethereally beautiful voice was silenced when Buckley overdosed on heroin in 1975. 

The Washington D.C.-born, Anaheim-reared musician never fit into one mold. He started out as a quintessentially sensitive folk singer with an uncommonly gorgeous and flexible voice, morphed into a folk-rocker then took a series of drastic left turns into jazz-rock, avant-garde explorations and sexually charged white funk.

Buckley also never gave much consideration to the marketplace, typically following his muse despite the conniptions it gave those who were trying to promote him to the masses. 

A new double-CD set assembled by Elektra Records--the label that first signed him--and Rhino Records documents the idiosyncratic path Buckley took during his eight-year recording career--from his 1966 debut, Tim Buckley, through 1974's Look at the Fool. Another single disc from Manifesto Records features unreleased material from two very different periods during that career. 

Morning Glory--The Tim Buckley Anthology

What most set Buckley apart from other '60s folkies was his voice--high, pure, at times even angelic. It infused his music with an otherworldly plaintiveness. 

The main essay in the 32-page CD booklet by Barry Alfonso doesn't get much into his family's background, but he grew up with a verbally and sometimes physically abusive father who'd suffered a head injury during World War II, while his mother was said to be chronically critical of her son. That laid the foundation for the low self-esteem that came out increasingly as his musical career

He was a student at Anaheim's Loara High School when he met two friends who would be his main musical partners for years--bassist Jim Fielder (later with Blood, Sweat & Tears) and aspiring poet Larry Beckett, who supplied most of the lyrics to the songs they wrote together.

"The singer's ethereal voice infused his music with an otherworldly plaintiveness..."
Buckley's first album showcased his exceptional voice on songs that at times were self-consciously poetic, though very much in keeping with the times. He ventured into psychedelia and political protest with his second album, 1967's Goodbye and Hello, but he was still most at home when singing of romance. It was here he started treating his voice less as a conduit for Beckett's lyrics than as another musical instrument whose boundaries he yearned to expand. He eventually incorporated growls, yelps, screams, whines, cackles and off-key shouts. 

By his third album, 1968's Happy Sad, Buckley seemed to hit his stride with a work with few direct comparisons in pop, but he was closest to the free-spirited rock-jazz excursions of Van Morrison's seminal Astral Weeks album from about the same period. Lyrics became less important than mood, as Buckley added jazz vibraphonist David Friedman prominently into the musical mix. It charted higher than any of his other albums, but still peaked only at No. 81. 

Rather than continue down that road, he returned to more conventional folk-rock forms with 1969's Blue Afternoon. Chase the Blues Away from that album might have laid the foundation for Chris Isaak's moodily romantic career, and Buckley's hypnotic late-night sound foreshadowed that of Cowboy Junkies. 

His work took some truly dramatic turns after that, careening from 1970's Lorca, inspired by the fatalistic view of romance of Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, to Starsailor, the 1970 album that includes Song to the Siren, probably the most revered song in his catalog, on through Greetings From L.A., Sefronia and Look at the Fool, inconsistent albums that often came off as blatant--even desperate--stabs at commercial success.

The two-CD set includes three songs from Greetings and just one apiece from its two successors, Sefronia (1973) - with its powerfully obsessed reinvention of the Jaynetts' 1963 hit Sally Go 'Round the Roses - and Look at the Fool. They serve more to trace the curious end to a once-promising career than to highlight his continued output. By comparison, fourteen songs come from those first three albums. 

The CD booklet makes no reference to his short marriage in the mid-'60s to Mary Guibert, nor to their son, Jeff Buckley, whose highly promising career was cut short when he accidentally drowned in 1997 while swimming in the Mississippi River. Perhaps, then, it's no surprise this set doesn't include I Never Asked to Be Your Mountain, a song from Goodbye and Hello that dealt with Buckley's estrangement from Guibert and from the son who was born after they divorced. 

Tim Buckley, The Dream Belongs To Me

The five-year gap between the dates of these two batches of outtakes and alternate versions of songs gives a quick look at the different sides of Buckley's music. They almost paint a portrait of a split personality between the folk and jazz-tinged romanticism of the earlier works and the hard-charging funk and rock of the latter songs. This is by no means an introduction to Buckley's music, but an often fascinating appendix to one singular musician's career. 

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