The Tim Buckley Archives

Album Reviews

Dream Letter: Live in London 1968

The Fickled Finger of Fate: Frank Stanford, Tim Buckley, and Nick Drake

by Jim Doss
 Recently I have been doing a lot of thinking about the 60’s and the 70’s, those years when my generation came of age.  I have been reading the literature of that period as well as listening to the music from the widely popular to the obscure.

In my wanderings through these years I have re-discovered three artists who have cult followings to some degree, but still remain relatively unknown to the general public. Each is utterly unique, no imitations possible.

They refused to pay attention to popular trends and pursued their art wherever their muse led. Yet they were flawed men who lives ultimately ended in tragedy before they were 30 years old. But in their all too brief time on earth, each produce an impressive body of work, and their art lives on. Thirty to forty years later there’s no more compelling argument I can make for today’s generation to listen to these artists than they deserve it.

Dream Letter: Live in London finds Tim Buckley at the height of his powers. Recorded October 7, 1968 at Queen Elizabeth Hall when he was 21, this musical chameleon, whose short but prolific career took him from folk to improvisational jazz to white hot funk, is captured here between his folk and jazz phases. Live albums either tend to be dull and uninspired efforts or bright, vibrant affairs filled with spontaneity and excitement. Fortunately, this album falls into the latter category. Buckley delivers a soaring two hour performance that surpasses just about all of his studio material, and the sound quality is the best I’ve ever heard on a live recording.

The main instrument in Buckley’s repertoire has always been his 3 ½ octave voice. It’s full range is on display from caveman-like guttural growls to high notes held longer than one can imagine. His tenor is not something that would be described as angelic; rather it is earthy, experienced, twisting and turning with emotion as he rides the roller coaster of melodies from one song to another. The sound quality of the recording is so good its easy put the headphones on, close your eyes, imagine yourself in a smoky nightclub watching the spotlight on the famous Buckley trance as he immerses himself totally into the music, delivering phrases in flowing laments or waves of joy.

The band consisting of Lee Underwood on lead guitar, Danny Thompson on base, and Dave Friedman on virbraphone provide a perfect complement to Buckley’s vocals and keep the songs lively and fresh. Album standards such as Dolphins, Buzzin’ Fly and the medley of Happy Time/Dream Letter are delivered with an energy unmatched in the studio. But more interesting to me are the songs that are unique to this album such as The Earth is Broken, Carnival Song/Hi Lily, Hi Lo, Troubadour, an inspired Wayfaring Stranger/You Got Me Running, and the Supremes’ You Keep Me Hanging On.

The only annoying thing on the album is Buckley’s difficulty in keeping his twelve-string guitar in tune throughout the concert. Several extended pauses between songs are required for him to retune, but this is understandable given the force with which he plays his instrument. If you own only one album by Buckley, this is the one. Other recommended albums are Goodbye and Hello (though some tracks are clearly outdated and the album as a whole is overproduced), Happy/Sad, Blue Afternoon, and for the more adventuresome the experimental Lorca and Starsailor.

© Doss/Loch Raven Review

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