Read my reviews of albums by Tim Buckley:
1966: Tim Buckley (???)
Somehow, after all this time, I’ve still never listened to his debut album.
1967: Goodbye and Hello (8/10)
In 2015, I wrote the following:
I have long been a fan of Buckley – he is one of my favourite rock vocalists – but I have only ever been acquainted with what you might call his peak years when he pioneered a fusion between singer-songwriter folk and contemporary jazz.
And so this record comes as a surprise, not just because of the hilariously dated psychedelic sound effects but because it bares so little resemblance to what he would do next. There’s literally one track on here that sounds to be me like the jazz folk (folk jazz?) Tim Buckley I know and love. Everything else sounds markedly different, not just in the arrangements but even in his singing (far less adventurous than later).
I’m not trying to be critical, this is still a unique and interesting album, with a strong set of songs, given the time anyway. (One really has to keep thinking “Remember, it was 1967!”) But I guess I am a little underwhelmed because his later stuff is not just better but far, far more original, and definitive.
I don’t necessarily disagree with this assessment.
What I would say is that I feel like this is a pretty monumental step on the road between psychedelic folk and progressive folk as few people other than maybe Donovan were making music like this at the time – this is considerably more accessible than The Incredible String Band – and Buckley is more ambitious than Donovan.
It still sounds weird compared to his later efforts (which is hindsight speaking) and it has dated too much. But better than I think I thought at the time.
Tim Buckley albums from 1969:
Happy Sad (10/10)
Full disclosure: this is the first Tim Buckley record I ever heard, it’s the one I fell in love with and it’s the one I’ve listened to the most (by far) since I became a fan. It is one of my favourite albums of the era. I cannot be unbiased about it. Sorry.
This is the record when Buckley went from being a reasonably interesting folk singer with just okay songs and contemporary arrangements and production (which have now somewhat dated) to an incredible performer and innovator, whose main appeal is his voice and the things he decides to surround it with. It’s this record and his future records that establish him as one of the great singers in “rock” history. But it’s also this record (along with Van Morrison records and some other stuff) that helped created whatever the hell the folk jazz / jazz folk genre is, where two seemingly incompatible things are married seemingly perfectly. (See also Pentangle.)
I guess Buckley’s songwriting has improved since he dropped his (co?) lyricist. His lyrics are far more personal. The songs themselves are (mostly) a lot less formal.
But for me the real draw is Buckley the performer and his band. This is just a stunning vocal performance that I would rank among the very best in-studio album-length performances by a male singer of his generation (outside of jazz perhaps). You read a lot about how jazz vocalists use their voices as instruments but, unless they are scatting, the results are often disappointing (or perhaps too subtle for my ears). But here Buckley really does use his voice as the lead melodic instrument on much of the record.
And then there’s the band: Buckley’s 12-string acoustic, electric guitar, stand up bass, vibraphone and congas – no drums. It’s the perfect accompaniment that gives the music a singular sound. (What other folk “rock” band relied on a vibraphone this much?) It’s a singular band perfectly suited to Buckley’s voice and these loose songs. It find the platonic ideal between jazz and folk. (Okay, I should calm down a bit.)
As you can see, I love this record.
Blue Afternoon (???)
No idea why I have never listened to this. I have no excuse.
Albums released by Tim Buckley in 1970:
I’m pretty sure there was some deliberate alienation going on here. I mean, opening your album with a 9-minute pipe organ riff as a popular folk singer must fall under that headline. This is far more abstract even than Happy Sad. (I haven’t heard Blue Afternoon somehow.) Though it is hard to call this jazz – as there is not enough emphasis on instrumental improvisation – it certainly is a lot closer to jazz than to folk.
The songs are mostly extremely deliberate, which at first is grating. It just means they require more time. This is a very conscious decision to move beyond certain traditions. And here Buckley shows himself as the best “folk” singer of his era. And, if we are willing to classify something so abstract as “rock music” somehow, one of the best rock singers of his era.
The one thing I criticize is I think “Driftin’” could have been even better, if they had gone faster and faster and faster at the end. That’s what I’d do if I were covering it.
I guess this is the logical end of Tim Buckley’s pursuit of jazz – a record that has basically nothing in common with his debut or any of his early music, and which feels really mislabeled if the term “singer songwriter” or “folk” is used.
With the exception of “Song of the Siren” (his most-covered song?) and maybe a few others, it’s harder and harder to talk about “songs” in the conventional with Buckley at this point. Some of these are such extreme departures from traditional folk songs that it feels like they should be evaluated on different terms – whether those are the terms of jazz, or experimental rock music, or what have you.
I think it’s much better to focus on the mood and the performances. Much of this stuff is even more seemingly free-form than Lorca, and it’s hard to know even how rehearsed it was given how it often feels like everyone is improvising at the same time. Buckley is in fine form of course. And 1969 and 1970 albums he put out are pretty much Exhibit A when it comes to his claim as one of the great singers of his generation. No other folk singer did the things Buckley did with his voice, and few rock singers either. (Listen to “Monterey” for a great example.) The rest of the band is able, as usual, and compliments him well. But he’s the star, for the most part, as you’d expect.
A few of the jams don’t go anywhere. And the title track has not dated at all well in my opinion – something to do with the effects. (Though I probably would have liked it fine 10 years ago, if I had made it to this record then.) But the album works more than it doesn’t.
I would say this is about the last place you should start with Buckley. It’s about as weird a record as he ever made and it’s something that you should approach only if you already know his music or like jazz a lot.
1972: Greetings From L.A. (8/10)
Ever since Tim Buckley embraced jazz and abandoned the more staid, more traditional singer songwriter approach of his earliest records, there is always been a bit of soul to his music, but that soul, such as it was, was always filtered through the lens of jazz.
So this record must have come as some kind of shock to Buckley’s fans, who had gotten used to his folk-jazz hybrid thing. Everything is different: Buckley’s songs are different (or, at least, so drastically re-arranged as to appear that he is writing different songs), the band performing them is different, and the vibe is different. This is basically soul music. Made by a man known as a folk singer-songwriter.
But I’m not sure I’m that shocked and I think it’s not just because I had read about this record being his “funk” album. Some of the elements here had already been in his songwriting for a while, particularly the repetition of certain melodic phrases. And it seems to me like Buckley’s voice is still the main solo element; he’s still wailing away, it’s just he’s singing over a different stylistic backing. The guitar solos are now replaced with organ solos.
And it’s Buckley’s voice and that organ that make this workable for me. Buckley was one of the best rock singers of his era (or any era, really) and he is fine form here, even if he’s ostensibly singing soul and R&B instead of jazz-influenced “folk.” And the band behind him is really solid, particularly that organist, who feels like a Jimmy Smith disciple.
Buckley’s songs were never really the main attraction anyway, so it’s not much of a problem (for me) if his lyrics aren’t great (and fairly misogynistic, as you might imagine about an album regularly described as “sexual”).
I’d rather listen to this raw, careening version of soul than the polished, slick version being made in Philly at the same time. (Shock! Horror!)
1973: Sefronia (???)
Buckley’s final two albums are kind of notoriously bad so I guess I have been avoided them. Read my reviews of 1973 albums.