The Tim Buckley Archives

Album Reviews

Starsailor: Tim Buckley

By Sean Trane

Buckley's most bizarre and personal album is also the most difficult to get nowadays, being out of print for many years, most likely for contractual reasons.

Indeed, Elektra was rather peeved as Buckley's continued (and wanted) lack of success, especially so that they really believed in his many talents to become a superstar. Frustrations were addressed at the singer's choice of material and in some ways, you can see where they're coming from.

So when Lorca came out as sombre much like Happy Sad had, they simply gave up on him and let him go. Buckley's outrageous talents where being kept for producing rather obscure and very personal songs, shying away from commercialism, but in some ways, knowing the era, this album could've sold massively had Buckley's image been handled correctly.

So Starsailor is the second album (released in November 70) on the Straight Records label after Blue Afternoon, but also the first without his "jazz group" line-up. In the meantime, over the last three (four) decades, this album has grown to a myth status (almost deserved) partly because of its scarce nature, but it is one of those that deserve its cult status as well.

As announced in Lorca, Balkin (bass player John Balkin) was gaining influence on Buckley and, presenting him with avant-garde music, he also hired ex-Zappa collab Buzz Gardner and his brother Bunk on wind instruments, both being part of his Ménage A Trois avant-garde project.

Now that Tim was writing once again with Larry Beckett, Starsailor is the album that helped Tim going over the top, reaching deeply in his many angsts and his general restless with his family life certainly not being able to rest him down. Gone are the lengthy tracks of Happy/Sad or Lorca, but this doesn't mean that the music is losing out in terms of depth or adventure, but gains in conciseness, even if the progheads wouldn't have minded the better tracks to last double their length, because they're so beautiful and personal. The young troubadour of the debut album has grown into an estranged, misunderstood and twisted artiste, soon to be irrecuperable for many.
"The group is indeed fully aware of Tim's madness and perfectly apt at following his meanders into insanity, managing to pull him back out and into an insane funk groove where Tim's voice tears it all apart..."
Slowly crawling from the woodwork, the drums, cymbals and bass announce that Tim is in a very moody spirit, and indeed, he comes out smooth but menacing, restraining his horses until the third verse where he can't hide is incredible power and shows no restraint and unleashes all hell, before going madly into dissonant realm, with a weird pipe organ to stop the track from derailing.

Luckily for themselves and their sanity, not many women heard this Come Here Women track opening up grandiosely the album, preparing the listener for the even weirder I Woke Up. The second track is really a slow deliria and most likely improvised jazzy, somewhere between Keith Tippet or Julie Driscoll, where Buzz Gardner's trumpet holds part of the blame for the track's bleakness.

Just as dark and menacing, but more funky like the future (and excellent) Greetings From LA, Tim's voice haunts, prowls, hunts you down to every corner of your brains, chasing your fears into oblivion, then pulling them into the open. Under a tense guitar riff, with crazy drumming, a haunting bass, Tim unleash all of it, baring it all until his primal scream becomes ape-like. The track ends in an unfortunate fade-out, but I'd give a fortune to hear the next three minutes he would've written.

As incredible as the album had started, Tim screws it up with a dumb French-sung Moulin Rouge (he'd done it in Happy/Sad already), which he should've abstained altogether. The only good thing is that it's less than two minutes. But Tim corrects this blunder by including one of his mist iconic track ever (but not my fave, by far), the famous Song To The Siren, covered by just about everyone that matters.

Elsewhere The Healing Festival blows one's mind with a 10/4 rhythm pattern. The flipside opens in the completely madness of Jungle Fire (in 5/4), where Tim shows that even label-mate Jim Morrison's dark side was not unique; the group is indeed fully aware of Tim's madness and perfectly apt at following his meanders into insanity, managing to pull him back out and into an insane funk groove where Tim's voice tears it all apart and there are unreal screams behind him. Again a real sad and unfortunate fade-out ends it, but the intro of the next (title) track is probably more mind- boggling than Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom.

If we can imagine Robert's madness on his hospital bed, when regarding life without walking, this track's distress is to be multiplied by 100 and would not sound out of place on Ummagumma (next to Eugene) either. Not that Healing Festival will pull your sanity in the right direction either. Bunk Gardner's (that's Buzz's brother, no kidding) sax leading the way over a wild and all-over-the-place group.

The closing Borderline is starting out on Buzz's (that's Bunk's brother) Spanish-sounding trumpet and will soar over another funky track, previewing again Greetings From LA, where Underwood's guitar, Gardner's trumpet and Tim's wailings are exchanging wild solos.

As far as personal albums go, I don't think that there is a rock artiste that went as far as Buckley in the present or Wyatt in the aforementioned Rock Bottom, and those mentioning Tim's on Jeff's sole official album called Grace, should really listen to Starsailor before opening their mouth. In spite of one false step (Moulin Rouge), this album is really close to the fifth star.

© 2004 Trane/

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