he died at the age of 28 in 1975, Tim Buckley left a rich,
diverse and, at times, difficult legacy.
while numerous forms of homage have been paid to his work,
its significance remains under-appreciated. Music writers
routinely eulogize Buckley's shooting-star genius, contemporary
artists have covered his songs and cite him as an influence,
and his work has even been sampled by the electronica generation.
yet Tim Buckley, arguably, still awaits the full degree of
recognition that he merits.
once noted: My life does not depend on Top 40. . . . "I
just don't fit there. . . . You gotta come up with something
new. You gotta go places you haven't been before."
His musical legacy bears out the integrity and veracity of
those statements. In a recording career lasting eight years
('66-'74), his nine albums mapped the odyssey of a unique
creative spirit that refused to settle into a consistently
commodifiable style, choosing instead to follow a path of
ongoing self-reinvention, sometimes at the cost of critical
acclaim, not to mention commercial success.
largely from sets recorded in London for John Peel's BBC radio
show in 1968 and Whispering Bob Harris's BBC TV program The
Old Grey Whistle Test in 1974, Once I Was captures
the mercurial Tim Buckley at his best. Save the final track,
this material was previously available elsewhere.
this CD puts Buckley's shape-shifting career into a well-wrought,
gilded nut-shell, bringing together the folk-rock -- on the
threshold of jazz -- of the early years with a brief glimpse
of the sexy, white funk soul brother that is late-period Buckley.
from the mid '60s Southern California scene with Jackson Browne
and Steve Noonan as one of the so-called Orange County Three,
Tim Buckley's eponymous 1966 debut and his sophomore effort
Goodbye and Hello (1967) were youthful, passionate
and romantic folk-rock documents that were very much of their
time. The latter in particular stressed what would prove to
be two of the constants throughout his stylistic metamorphoses:
an inimitable vocal prowess and an ability to pen songs with
hit potential as well as innovative, elaborate and less compromised
anyone who has yet to discover the wonder of Tim Buckley,
Once I Was is an ideal introduction. For the
converted, this is another posthumous treasure in the
spirit of Dream Letter...
is well-represented here with captivatingly pure, melodic
renditions of Morning Glory, Hallucinations, and
Once I Was, on which Buckley's legendary five-octave range
stands as an instrument itself, perfectly integrated within
the arrangements. On Morning Glory Lee Underwood's
minimal, smoldering lead guitar complements Buckley's assured,
unfaltering vocals, while Hallucinations (including
Troubadour) stretches out gloriously over nearly eleven
minutes, its subtle yet driving rhythms, changes of pace and
intricate lead guitar recalling the sound of British folk
bands like The Pentangle.
melancholy beauty of Once I Was is conjured up by a
magical combination of Buckley's voice and his chiming twelve-string,
trimmed with percussion and almost imperceptible electric
guitar. This is a haunting piece, its poignancy redoubled
now in the knowledge that the late Jeff Buckley played it
at the 1991 New York City tribute concert for his father.
measured balladry of Sing a Song For You is somewhat
atypical of Happy Sad, from which it is drawn. Recorded
in 1968, Happy Sad coincided stylistically and chronologically
with Van Morrison's Astral Weeks and saw Buckley moving
in the same direction as Morrison, toward a fusion of jazz
stylings and drifting, bluesy folk.
Those characteristics would coalesce superbly on 1970's Blue
Afternoon, represented on Once I Was by Happy
Time, during which Buckley shares the spotlight once more
with Underwood's fragile but evocative lead guitar.
I Was glosses over Buckley's complex period, a phase that,
for some, found him at the peak of his creative powers and
that, for others, was his musical nadir. After the release
of Lorca in 1970, critics and fans blanched at his
apparent attempt to commit commercial suicide in concert as
he pursued an uncompromising avant-garde jazz approach that,
at its most challenging, allegedly sounded not unlike a meeting
of Messiaen and Mingus complete with cocktail trumpets, gongs,
crooning and howling. "Buckley's
Yodeling Baffles Audience" proclaimed a review of a particularly
difficult 1970 gig.
(1971) fared no better. "Buckley Goes Bizarre" wrote
one journalist, knocking it as a collection of tuneless wailings
and Doctor Who effects. Ironically, that album features his
finest achievement, the ethereal Song to the Siren,
covered by This Mortal Coil, sampled directly and indirectly
by Everything But the Girl and the Chemical Brothers respectively,
and -- in sacrilegious fashion akin to the fate met by Nick
Drake's Pink Moon -- hijacked for TV ads.
1974 recordings on Once I Was stand as bookends to
Buckley's career. Dolphins from Sefronia (1974)
was a song he had played live since the late '60s and, while
a marvelous version is immortalized on Dream Letter: Live
in London 1968 (1990), this joyously lilting rendition
tops even that with the rich, honey-in-the-sun lower reaches
of Buckley's voice yielding to momentary flourishes up the
majestic vocals reign over the raunchy, electric bump and
grind of Honey Man, a track that neatly encapsulates
Buckley's explorations of an unbridled and earthy white blues/funk
sound begun on Greetings From LA (1972).
a bonus, Once I Was contains an unreleased twelve-minute
version of I Don't Need it to Rain that differs markedly
from the rendition on Live at the Troubadour 1969 (1994).
Taped live in Copenhagen in 1968, this is a more understated
-- but more breathtaking -- version that stresses Buckley's
ability to bring an unparalleled intensity and intimacy to
anyone who has yet to discover the wonder of Tim Buckley,
Once I Was is an ideal introduction. For the converted,
this is another posthumous treasure in the spirit of Dream
Letter, underscoring the timeless genius of one of the
more innovative, passionate, eclectic, and yet largely unsung
singer-songwriters of the late '60s and early '70s. Lillian
Roxon once said of Buckley: "There is no name yet for
the places he and his voice can go".
may be long gone but on Once I Was, Buckley again manages
to transport his listener to a unique and beautiful realm
which words prove inadequate to describe.