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Friday, March 10

Best Song Writers - Tim Buckley.

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Bio By AMG...

One of the great rock vocalists of the 1960s, Tim Buckley drew from folk, psychedelic rock, and progressive jazz to create a considerable body of adventurous work in his brief lifetime. His multi-octave range was capable of not just astonishing power, but great emotional expressiveness, swooping from sorrowful tenderness to anguished wailing. His restless quest for new territory worked against him commercially: By the time his fans had hooked into his latest album, he was onto something else entirely, both live and in the studio. In this sense he recalled artists such as Miles Davis and David Bowie, who were so eager to look forward and change that they confused and even angered listeners who wanted more stylistic consistency. However, his eclecticism has also ensured a durable fascination with his work that has engendered a growing posthumous cult for his music, often with listeners who were too young (or not around) to appreciate his music while he was active.

Buckley emerged from the same '60s Orange County, CA, folk scene that spawned Jackson Browne and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Mothers of Invention drummer Jimmy Carl Black introduced Buckley and a couple of musicians Buckley was playing with to the Mothers' manager, Herbie Cohen. Although Cohen may have first been interested in Buckley as a songwriter, he realized after hearing some demos that Buckley was also a diamond in the rough as a singer. Cohen became Buckley's manager, and helped the singer get a deal with Elektra.

Before Buckley had reached his 20th birthday, he'd released his debut album. The slightly fey but enormously promising effort highlighted his soaring melodies and romantic, opaque lyrics. Baroque psychedelia was the order of the day for many Elektra releases of the time, and Buckley's early folk-rock albums were embellished with important contributions from musicians Lee Underwood (guitar), Van Dyke Parks (keyboards), Jim Fielder (bass), and Jerry Yester. Larry Beckett was also an overlooked contributor to Buckley's first two albums, co-writing many of the songs.

The fragile, melancholic, orchestrated beauty of the material had an innocent quality that was dampened only slightly on the second LP, Goodbye and Hello (1967). Buckley's songs and arrangements became more ambitious and psychedelic, particularly on the lengthy title track. This was also his only album to reach the Top 200, where it only peaked at number 171; Buckley was always an artist who found his primary constituency among the underground, even for his most accessible efforts. His third album, Happy Sad, found him going in a decidedly jazzier direction in both his vocalizing and his instrumentation, introducing congas and vibes. Though it seemed a retreat from commercial considerations at the time, Happy Sad actually concluded the triumvirate of recordings that are judged to be his most accessible.

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The truth was, by the late '60s Buckley was hardly interested in folk-rock at all. He was more intrigued by jazz; not only soothing modern jazz (as heard on the posthumous release of acoustic 1968 live material, Dream Letter), but also its most avant-garde strains. His songs became much more oblique in structure, and skeletal in lyrics, especially when the partnership with Larry Beckett was ruptured after the latter's induction into the Army. Some of his songs abandoned lyrics almost entirely, treating his voice itself as an instrument, wordlessly contorting, screaming, and moaning, sometimes quite cacophonously. In this context, Lorca was viewed by most fans and critics not just as a shocking departure, but a downright bummer. No longer was Buckley a romantic, melodic poet; he was an experimental artiste who sometimes seemed bent on punishing both himself and his listeners with his wordless shrieks and jarringly dissonant music.

Almost as if to prove that he was still capable of gentle, uplifting jazzy pop-folk, Buckley issued Blue Afternoon around the same time. Bizarrely, Blue Afternoon and Lorca were issued almost simultaneously, on different labels. While an admirable demonstration of his versatility, it was commercial near-suicide, each album canceling the impact of the other, as well as confusing his remaining fans. Buckley found his best middle ground between accessibility and jazzy improvisation on 1970's Starsailor, which is probably the best showcase of his sheer vocal abilities, although many prefer the more cogent material of his earliest albums.

By this point, though, Buckley's approach was so uncommercial that it was jeopardizing his commercial survival. And not just on record; he was equally uncompromising as a live act, as the posthumously issued Live at the Troubadour 1969 demonstrates, with its stretched-to-the-limit jams and searing improv vocals. For a time, he was said to have earned his living as a taxi driver and chauffeur; he also flirted with films for a while. When he returned to the studio, it was as a much more commercial singer/songwriter (some have suggested that various management and label pressures were behind this shift).

As much of a schism as Buckley's experimental jazz period created among fans and critics, his final recordings have proved even more divisive, even among big Buckley fans. Some view these efforts, which mix funk, sex-driven lyrical concerns, and laid-back L.A. session musicians, as proof of his mastery of the blue-eyed soul idiom. Others find them a sad waste of talent, or relics of a prodigy who was burning out rather than conquering new realms. Neophytes should be aware of the difference of critical opinion regarding this era, but on the whole his final three albums are his least impressive. Those who feel otherwise usually cite the earliest of those LPs, Greetings from L.A. (1972), as his best work from his final phase.

Buckley's life came to a sudden end in the middle of 1975, when he died of a heroin overdose just after completing a tour. Those close to him insist that he had been clean for some time and lament the loss of an artist who, despite some recent failures, still had much to offer. Buckley's stock began to rise among the rock underground after the Cocteau Twins covered his "Song for the Siren" in the 1980s. The posthumous releases of two late-'60s live sets (Dream Letter and Live at the Troubadour 1969) in the early '90s also boosted his profile, as well as unveiling some interesting previously unreleased compositions. His son Jeff Buckley went on to mount a musical career as well before his own tragic death in 1997.

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"Tim Buckley - Beautiful Dreamer"
(review of Happy/Sad)
by Pete Frame - 1968:

"When you're in a recording studio, you have time and money, so you go into this dreamland," says Tim Buckley.

And that's exactly what he does. Into a peculiarly vivid and enveloping dreamland. A land at once intensely personal and totally beguiling to the listener. Tales of love, of war, and feelings, and mornings, and more love; told in words of sophisticated, soft, satin magic; in musical settings elevating the sometimes tempestuous, sometimes so gentle songs, to works of breathtaking beauty.

The picturesque backdrop against which he has lurched from comparative obscurity to comparative fame in three years, is almost too good to be true. Teenage in the hip mould of poet ridden Venice, Calif., "discovery" by Mother Jimmy Earl Black in a small West Coast folk club, appearances at the legendary star catalyst Night Owl in Greenwich Village, an Elektra contract, unsolicited testimonials from every discerning musician from George Harrison to Frank Zappa and two superb albums.

Happy Sad is his third record. A treasure of incredible, rare aesthetic excellence.
Usually when I listen to a record for the first time, I like to lie on the floor, wearing phones or just lying near the speakers, with a pencil and paper nearby so that I can catch initial impressions -- so that repeated listening doesn't lose or distort my immediate reactions, which often don't recur. But with Happy Sad, I was so preoccupied with the sleeve, that I hardly got a thing down. In a word, it's about the best sleeve that I've ever seen. The photograph (by Ed Caraeff) of Buckley, with his mind clambering around in some distant sink of melancholy, is stunning. A finer, more delicately shaded description of the title would not have been possible -- it's as if you can see through his eyes and recreate his mood and mental environment. And the lettering -- a small detail, but so thoughtfully chosen and executed.

The most frequent criticism of Buckley's live work, is from people who find his melodies too similar and indifferent. Oblivious of the audience, they say, he enters his dreamworld and consequently after a while, his spell weaving palls and provokes a distracting monotony which the lyrical beauty just cannot support. Well. Fair enough. If they don't like him, that's their hang up. But they lose. His melodies are arrestingly inventive, and the settings exquisite, springing from the supremely excellent musical and mental harmony between he and his musicians, particularly Lee Underwood, his bearded lead guitarist, who is so cool, and so competent. Sitting there, -- easily, quiet like a shy boy at school, feeling out the arrangements for the softer songs with such delicacy. And on the faster material, like 'Buzzin' Fly', which you know is just off his scene, you can almost feel his tongue piercing his lips in concentration -- but he still achieves perfection.

If you saw Buckley at Queen Elizabeth Hall a few months ago, most of the songs will be familiar. 'Love from Room 109' has been haunting me since his visit, and his Late Night Line Up and Top Gear appearances. What a ridiculously fine song. As I listen, I can see him sitting there, hunched over his twelvestring, his plectrum up and down, easing out mellow waves, up and down. And him with his bony face and ragged hair, leaning into the microphone, lips teasing its phallic form, the sinews of his neck taut as he strains and twists, contorting his delivery with lip manipulation, clinging to syllables and wringing out their meanings. The imagery, of love, is simple but intense. Such a thorough feeling of intense sincerity. And in the background, the Pacific Ocean, pacifying. Here is a song which, like 'Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowland', cannot provoke boredom by over familiarity. The more you listen, the more detail is revealed. Really so nice.

There are only six songs, but most are long, and all are beautiful. 'Buzzin' Fly', recalling an endless summer which ended, exemplifies Buckley's rapport with his sidesmen. "They are aware of the form. Everything is improvisation really, but the form is always there." Instead of easing out gentleness, Lee Underwood pulls out some controlled harshness. He's such an interesting musician, lacking the innovation of some, but setting out and succeeding wondrously in embellishing the song -- not protruding at all. He's always on Buckley's wavelength, tickling out his graceful decorations almost.

Incidentally, the musicians on the album are Buckley's usual concert accompanists, and the song 'Gypsy Woman' is Carter C.C. Collin's conga drum tour de force. For the obvious reasons of the live/recorded music gap, Buckley's ten minute solo is drastically cut, but he sets the decor, creates the atmosphere of caravans, horses, red bandanas, full swirling skirts, big gold earrings, and geraniums lips. Buckley is very fond of romanticising underdogs ('Morning Glory' for instance). He sees sincerity, attributes and romance where most of us see only dirt. Or maybe he feels an affinity to their nomadic lives. (What are American gypsies like I wonder, or is this another dream -- of classical, Romanies?). A very dramatically contoured, furious song; he is screaming in tormented exultation. (Who is this? It surely can't be early Presley. I just cannot place the similarity).

'Strange Feeling'. What a unique voice, tingling with anguish, an almost suffocating desperation -- rising, writhing, falling, moaning, strangled, sensuous, but always controlled. Always pure. Always coaxed out with an uncanny precision of pitch. Very distinctive, and very beautiful. An "everything's gonna be alright" song, musically very reminiscent of the Miles Davis Quartet's 'Blue in Green' -- lovely vibes playing by David Friedman. This is soul singing. (Not as conveyed by Sam & Dave and their ilk who, ineptly labelled by some ignorant cretin, have little more soul than Des O'Connor, but just a kind of inherent exuberance). Singing from his soul, with his soul. Clinging, soothing introspection -- practically exposing his nerve ends, full of hopes and poignancy. Taking you right into his mind when he wrote it.

On his recent visit, he was singing the Fred Neil song 'Dolphins', which he did very well and very differently. It's a real pity it wasn't included here, but never mind. Which reminds me, I once saw Buckley quoted as saying "I don't listen to any of my contemporaries." That was a while ago, since when he has certainly been doing a lot of listening to Fred Neil -- but then, which American folksingers haven't? Listen to his vocal inflection on the opening track for instance.

Larry Becket? Yes, what happened to his lyric collaborator of previous albums? I read that, too despondent to accompany his friend on tour, he was remaining in Venice to record a poetry album for Elektra and to write songs for others. But that was months ago.

When Goodbye ad Hello was released in America, I used to get long letters from Mac, who was living in California at the time, saying how his most pleasurable hours were those spent engulfed in the album whilst meandering over the words in the fold out sleeve (U.S. version) he had spread before him. This is another record to just listen to. But this is better. It's the kind of record you think you should inscribe the words "for perfect listening conditions only" on. But you know you want to listen to it a lot, and anyway, the opening bars induce a perfect, lyrical, floating state.

The intensity is what particularly spills out of the record, and this is where its beauty lies. So acutely and delicately. I could quote lyric snippets, but unclad in their music and Buckley's voice, they would mean so much less. But just listen to the sincerity of the man; the truth of his emotional and sexual thinkings. Happy in dream and memory, sad in present recollection, restlessly wrestling with hopeless voids. Listen to it. A love record -- to absorb in solitude. To just lie and listen to. Over and over. "But all I have to give, are my dreams".