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Album Reviews

A Taste of Honey

Morning Glory: The Tim Buckley Anthology

He sung his life in less than ten years.
This is not the whole story – but it’ll do for starters...

by Dave Di Martino

Long-in-coming two-CD career retrospective covering Buckley’s works from beginning to final fade. Includes his 1967 performance of Song To The Siren on the Monkees’ television show.

For an overview of a career that began in seemingly humble singer/songwriter tradition, shot skyward in a surge of near-astonishing artistic ambition, then apparently fizzled in a half-hearted muddle of compromise, Morning Glory is a remarkably consistent listen.

The zigs and zags that make Tim Buckley's recorded legacy a puzzle to the uninitiated have, perhaps wisely, been smoothed out for this first attempt at a comprehensive career summation. And one can't fairly argue the point: until those unfamiliar with his wild artistic leaps get a glimmer of his more restrained ones, they might not appreciate how very high he soared.

Which means that the yodeling, multi­dubbed, metallic-shrieking Tim Buckley who sang the title track of 1971's Starsailor, his crowning artistic achievement, is under wraps here, emerging just once, on Monterey, before being reined in by time and, one assumes, commercial reality.

But for those who might be put off Tim Buckley by more than a taste of Starsailor's far-reaching glory, or the first side of its immediate predecessor Lorca (also not represented here), that's fine. Let them instead get a taste of the middle ground of Buckley's journey, the more accessible stopping points in a career rivaling no other in pop music.

All of it is present here: the delicate, extremely palatable sweet stuff of Buckley's 1966 debut, the earnest political point-making of 1967's Goodbye And Hello, the divine pairing of Happy Sad and Blue Afternoon — in many ways his most timeless, or rather, least-dated work — and finally Starsailor and all that would come after, including 1974's disappointing Look At The Fool, his final work before dying of a heroin overdose the next year.

Having enjoyed every Tim Buckley album, from first to last, hearing his work in this abbreviated format is odd. There are subtleties in all of his albums that become evident only in a full listening to each one, tastes of what would come next from the album preceding it. You don't hear them here. The charming, often straightforward style of Buckley's debut album gave way to the two distinct paths on Goodbye And Hello: the intricately structured title track, which hasn't aged well, and the deliberately mystical Hallucinations, which has.

The sense of openness of the latter track lent itself to masterful albums that would follow: both Happy Sad and Blue Afternoon are deep, jazz-inflected works boasting superb musicianship (thanks to long-time guitarist Lee Underwood and the vibes of David Friedman) and noticeable artistic maturity.

These are the albums that anyone less driven than Buckley would have based an entire career upon. Side two of Lorca continued in this vein, but the dense and intimate pair of songs on the flipside signaled the coming storm of Starsailor.

And here I must part company with the picture of Tim Buckley painted by this collection. Though the shorthand retelling of Buckley's career positions Starsailor’s comparatively commercial follow-up Greetings From L.A. as a complete artistic turn-around, from sensitive song-poet to leering 4/4 rock horndog, one could argue that the transition was a natural one, as evidenced by Starsailor's closer Down By The Borderline.

With its Buckley-penned lyrics of "Every time a little girl pass me by I can smell the way she walks", Borderline set the stage for Greetings' all-out sexual assault. The absence here of both that song and Greetings' well-known Get On Top, highlighted by Buckley's noting that he "talks in tongues when he makes love”, thus fails to reveal the full extent of the path the singer was willing to traverse at this point.

Likewise absent is Devil Eyes which, with its telling opening lyric (again by Buckley), "I got so tired of meaningful looks", offers motivational hints any attempt at a comprehensive career summation should surely include. As a result, the impact of the album's closer, Make It Right, in which the singer is prowling for a street comer girl "who's gonna beat me, whip me, spank me/Make it right again", which is heard here, is considerably lessened.

After noting his desire to lick his partner's stretch marks on Devil Eyes, where was Tim Buckley to go? To the respectable follow-up Sefronia, handicapped by a surplus of cover songs, and the generally disappointing Look At The Fool, represented here only by Who Could Deny You.

The passing of time has lent some irony to that album, both for its title and the strangely disappointed look in Buckley's eyes on the cover portrait. Taken alone, Look At The Fool is a meager showing for an artist as talented as the man who made it. Taken as the climax of a career that in the quest of art soared too high too soon, it is that much more moving.

For long-time Buckley fans this set offers but one rarity: his previously televised acoustic rendition of Song To The Siren, prefaced by an introduction from Monkee Mickey Dolenz. With the score to Hall Bartlett's 1969 film Changes and his 1970 appearance on the Boboquivari concert television series still awaiting proper issue, this won't be enough to captivate completists.

But those who've never heard the man couldn't ask for a more balanced introduction. If this is your first Tim Buckley album, it won't be your last.

© 1995 Di Martino/MOJO

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