The Tim Buckley Archives

Album Reviews

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by Mike Bourne

I never did and still don't dig "folk": that sort of guitar strumming relevance bit, mainly as the music always seemed to me virtually gratuitous, just acoustic licks of little moment to accompany the actual focus in the lyrics.

Hyped as the New Poetry, many zealous critics and fans alike, sought in such ditties as Blowing in the Wind every metaphysical/political ounce, and now even used the tunes as mass panacea for demonstrations - under the assumption that "we shall overcome" if we all sing.

Nevertheless, one cannot deny an entire genre, and so I listen, even to Dylan (who is by now too big for himself), and one salvation amid the doggerel and pickin' was Tim Buckley.

Unlike most contemporaries, Buckley (with collaborator Larry Beckett) offered on his first Elektra dates true poetry within evocative musical contexts, and yet, as he progressed a curious reversal happened: where at first his imagery proved more complex and his music simply tatty, gradually (as best indicated on the Happy/Sad album) his music became more impressionistic and lyrics mainly tender love songs.
"Where at first Buckley offered only a somewhat pleasant high pitched croon, now he has proven himself a consummate vocal technician..."
Though lyrical, his singing and playing likewise moved with a freer impetus; always unpredictable, always humorous, his voice evolved as more than a mere vehicle for words, although he still retained that characteristic delicate quiver - that sort of magical ethos I term elfin.

On Lorca, the sensitive interplay of Buckley's vocals (both verbal and nonverbal) with pianist Underwood and the drone of the strings bear witness to his new directions: a contrapuntal scheme of drifting ensemble colors, with an ultra vibrato temper throughout, and much more sense of musical atmosphere than in the customary leader-with-accompaniment.

But Lorca is somewhat like an embryo to Starsailor (likely cut just prior to Buckley's move from Elektra to Straight), and sounds much less fulfilled: certainly venturesome, but still formative, not at the point of melodic and rhythmic fruition of Starsailor, even though it is moving.

Truly, to witness lovely ballads like his early Once I Was and Morning Glory and then realize the distance between that style and the moaning, attitudes on Starsailor is quite a shock, especially when one hears the whining almost laughing scat on Monterey
Of course Buckley has not wholly abandoned his charms as a troubadour, as in the petite chanson Moulin Rouge (with savory trumpet accents by Buzz Gardner) or the sighing, self-accompanied Song to a Siren, but has indeed expanded upon his own initial sense.

Where at first Buckley offered only a somewhat pleasant high pitched croon, now he has proven himself a consummate vocal technician, from the shimmering coos of Song to a Siren to primitive wailing on Jungle Fire to distorted chanting on the title cut--and far too few (if any) pop artists exhibit such expressive control of the resonance and general tone of the voice as does Buckley, though no less limited in range to a ceiling tenor and falsetto than before.

Furthermore, Buckley is lucky to have with him such compatible co-evolutionary creators as Underwood and Balkin, plus the added tastes of Baker and the Gardner brothers - for the success of the albums clearly the mutual propulsion among the players, from erratic jittery tempos through the almost formless textures and into even the quasi-cutesy Moulin Rouge. As ever, I rejoice that such spirit as that of Buckley and his cohorts is on record.

Finally, at a point at which Elton John and Leon Russell and the other one-dimensionals are being heralded as the new superstar solo performers, Starsailor proves Tim Buckley the far greater (and so far less noticed): a sincerely eclectic and compassionate artist who, as the adage speaks, must be heard to be believed.

Downbeat is a well respected US jazz magazine.
After leaving Tim's band, guitarist Lee Underwood became their West Coast editor.

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