The Tim Buckley Archives

Album Reviews


Tim Buckley Live at the Folklore Center,
NYC - March 6th, 1967

by Stephen M. Deusner

Tim Buckley was only 20 years old when he took a chair in Israel Izzy Young's shop and played a show for the small crowd seated on the floor among the racks of periodicals, books, LPs, and instruments hanging on the walls.

This was the Folklore Center, recently relocated from MacDougal Street to Sixth Avenue, as if physically representing the gradual dispersal of the Greenwich Village folk scene.

In 1967, Buckley was not a household name (nor would he ever be); he had released a mannered debut on Asylum the year before, and had a follow-up scheduled for a few months later. At that point, he was a young artist still developing his sound and style, still honing his lyrical and vocal gifts.

Although he had spent a few years in New York City before returning to Los Angeles, Buckley was closely associated with the West Coast scene, which was the reason Young booked him: I'm presenting concerts again so I can hear what a West Coast singer sounds like in person, writes Young in the liner notes to the new Live at the Folklore Center, NYC – March 6, 1967.

Buckley must have been a novelty on the monthlong Folklore Center Continuing Folk Festival, the odd man out among New York natives Jack Elliott, Art Rosenbaum, and Spider John Koerner. But he was no more a Laurel Canyon strummer than he was a Village folkie and in fact adopted the brittle composure of the British folk at its stiffest on his debut.

There are traces of that formality on Live at the Folklore Center, but it is usually obscured by the influence of Bob Dylan, Fred Neil, and other East Coast singers, which is more obvious on this record than on any of his studio LPs. These are stark recordings of skeletal songs, featuring just Buckley's bell-like voice and emphatic, often percussive guitar playing. The sound quality is good, which is unexpected considering the performance was recorded through one mic on a machine used for taping field recordings.

On opener Song for Jainie, Wings, and especially Aren't You the Girl, Buckley conveys the conflicts and romantic recriminations as strongly and surely by himself as he did with a full band and string section on his debut, and No Man Can Find the War flourishes in this context, the strident strumming and descending melody on the chorus sounding like damning judgments.

Live at the Folklore Center is a document of the artist pulling away not just from the New York scene or the West Coast scene, but from every scene. With each record, Buckley put an increasingly distinctive stamp on his songs, saturating them in jazz, raga, psychedelia, rock, and even schmaltz (ever heard his cover of Tom Waits' Martha?). Phantasmagoria in Two and Carnival Song point in that direction, even if they feel a bit unformed at this point. On the other hand, his relatively conservative reading of Fred Neil's Dolphins sounds much less affected than the version that would appear on 1973's Sefronia.

What makes this recording more than a milemarker in an unpredictable and truncated career is the tracklist itself: Of the sixteen songs Buckley played that night, six have never been officially released in any format, live or otherwise, until now. That the show ends with four such discoveries gives a sense forty years later of the artist embarking into the unknown, starting with the juxtaposition of his delicate vocal melody against his spidery, almost sinister guitar playing on Cripples Cry. If the Rain Comes never pours, but Country Boy is a strong stab at country folk, and Buckley sounds like three or four different singers trading off vocals on I Can't Leave You Loving Me.

It's a climactic performance that shows both what Buckley had been and what he would become.

Stephen M. Deusner, August 11, 2009

© 2009 Stephen M. Deusner/Pitchfork

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