Trip: Tim Buckley - Happy Sad
engineering. It happens a lot when discovering music.
You pick up one piece only to find it fell out of somewhere else. Son Volt was
my introduction to Uncle Tupelo. Briano Eno my introduction to Roxy Music. And
in a connection slightly different (well, very different) from those, Jeff Buckley
was my introduction to Tim Buckley.
The parallels in father and son's life are eerie. Meteoric rises to success and
tragic, young deaths. But Tim Buckley was dead long before I'd even heard of Jeff
(and, sadly, so was Jeff), so approaching his music without precedent is impossible.
I would be listening for Jeff in Tim - the dynamic vocal range, especially.
Sad was Buckley's third album and it was the first to truly expand upon the
jazz leanings his music had been channeling from the beginning. It's evident from
track one, the beautiful Strange Feelin', which evokes Miles Davis' All
Blues in its opening guitar progression. Even if at first it's Buckley's haunting
voice that takes over - his quaver is downright mesmerizing at points - the instrumentation
is just as vital. The song never leaves the opening theme, letting it morph and
mold itself over the course of the seven and a half minutes.
one point it turns into a bluesy vamp, only to come back to earth as a continuation
of its opening jazz moments. The modal jazz themes return on the second side's
first song, Dream Letter. One of the album's most beautiful moments, the
song is Buckley's apologetic ode to his ex-wife and first son, Jeff. "Oh,
what I wouldn't give to hold him," Buckley pines over the song's closing
murmur of vibes and guitar. Paired with the album's opening track, it makes for
a dynamic opening to the album's second half.
brings us to something about this record that isn't unique for itself nor for
its time period, but has become more unique over the years: the number of tracks.
There are only six songs on this album. Granted, the whole thing clocks in at
just shy of 45 minutes, which answers our question in one way - that was roughly
the storage capacity for a 33 1/3 LP. Any more songs and this would've become
a double album. But anyone who is only putting six songs on an album isn't exactly
someone who's shooting for the singles chart. Happy Sad is the type of
album that has to be absorbed, experienced and re-experienced.
"I've owned this album for going on seven
years and, honestly, I'm just now getting around to absorbing and understanding
two long-form songs on the album, Gypsy Woman and Love from Room 109
at the Islander (On Pacific Coast Highway), despite their ten-plus minutes
each, are as dissimilar as any other two songs on the album. The former is a slowly
building rave that turns into a jam session by half way through its running time.
The latter is almost like a classical piece, built in parts that recall the overall
jazz and folk themes that collide repeatedly across the album.
with the sound of waves crashing, as a lead-in to the second side's Dream Letter,
it's a stirring painting of a man finding a surprise and unexpected love, only
to echo the past loves and their results. At times, especially nearly 40 years
after, Buckley's lyrics can seem rather dated in their phrasing. But considering
his voice as simply another instrument, it is a remarkable piece of the puzzle.
The album closes with the short Sing a Song For You. A simple, plaintive
plea for inner peace, it's a neat summary to the album's languishing explorations
of love and lost.
are no guarantees if, like me, you come to Tim Buckley by way of his son, that
you will like his music. I've owned this album for going on seven years and, honestly,
I'm just now getting around to absorbing and understanding it. But there are calling
cards here - modal jazz, folk stories - that allow space for exploration. Much
like its obvious influence, Kind of Blue, it's a record that rewards repeat,
scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)
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