Like father, like... "Live At The Troubadour" is Tim Buckley's second posthumous live release, following 1991's superlative (i.e. almost as good as "Grace") "Dream Letter". Unfortunately it doesn't quite scale those stratospheric heights, as the songs included shift from the pioneering folk-rock and acoustic balladeering of the "Goodbye & Hello" and "Happy Sad" albums towards the more experimental terrain of his "Lorca" and "Starsailor" period, which alienated vast chunks of Buckley's original fanbase.
Not that "Live At The Troubadour" isn't good: any album that begins with the joyous "Strange Feelin'", and follows it up with the elliptical "Venice Mating Call" (replete with Buckley's tragic "Give smack a chance" introduction ) can't help but impress with its diversity. Elsewhere "Gypsy Woman" is helped no end by Mother Of Invention and Magic Band member Art Tripp's anchor-heavy drumming. But the rest of the album seems too one-paced, as one eight minute acoustic blues number gives way to another eight minute acoustic blues number. Still, I can remember thinking similar disdainful thoughts on first hearing "Dream Letter". Give it a year and I'm sure I'll like it more.
TIM BUCKLEY Once I Was (Strange Fruit)
"Once I Was" is at least the third reissue of the late, great Tim Buckley's 1968 John Peel session, here augmented with two tracks recorded in 1974 for "The Old Grey Whistle Test" and a recently rediscovered version of "I Don't Need It To Rain" from a 1968 Copenhagen gig, apparently found in a box of disintegrating reel-to-reels in Tim's home. ("Listeners may notice a difference in sound quality", the back cover slyly admits: I would suggest that any listener who doesn't notice a difference in sound quality is wasting their money buying albums in the first place).
Both "Old Grey Whistle Test" tracks are versions of material from the "Sefronia" album, the work of a man whose immense talent and incredible voice was quickly being squandered by inadequate material (Tom Waits and Fred Neil covers excepted) and inappropriate production, the lust-drenched dynamism that characterised its predecessor "Greetings From L.A." now curdled beyond all recognition. "Dolphins" just about escapes the mistreatment meted out here, but it's still a horrible distortion of the voice-and-guitar version featured on the 1968 concert document "Dream Letter". "Honey Man" showcases Buckley attempting to out-tussle "Let's Get It On"-era Marvin Gaye, with predictably embarrassing consequences. The rare take of "I Don't Need It To Rain" is markedly different to other versions of the song I've heard, sounding far closer musically to Buckley's own "Strange Feelin'", but not interesting enough to justify purchase of the album on its own.
The heart of this album, though, are the five tracks recorded for John Peel - pure, unvarnished takes of contemporary Buckley classics such as "Once I Was" and "Morning Glory", stripped of the crass, dated production of their studio equivalents. There's little here that isn't duplicated by the "Dream Letter" live double album, but if you're put off that essential Buckley artefact by its length, expense or frequent lapses into rambling self-indulgence in the continued and puzzling absence of a decent career-spanning retrospective package "Once I Was" is as good a place for the interested beginner to start as any.
TIM BUCKLEY Morning Glory The Tim Buckley Anthology (Elektra Traditions/Rhino)
TIM BUCKLEY The Dream Belongs To Me Rare And Unreleased Recordings 1969/1973 (Manifesto)
It's taken the quarter of a century since his tragic, senseless death for the recorded legacy of Tim Buckley to be anthologised with any rigorousness, but "Morning Glory" is the kind of immaculately assembled package that makes the waiting seem almost worthwhile. There's a 32-page booklet recounting the familiar tale of the choirboy-voiced folk-rocker who became corrupted by the avant-garde, funk, jazz and, fatally, drugs (and a wonderful cover photo of the young Buckley posing on a snow-clogged New York sidewalk in front of posters advertising upcoming gigs by, amongst others, The Velvet Underground & Nico, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman ever get the feeling you've been cheated by being born in the wrong time and place?!). Rather more importantly, there's two CDs crammed to the circumference with his oft-cited and rather less heard music.
Inevitably, with nine studio albums and numerous posthumously released live sets to choose from, no two Buckley aficionados are going to agree entirely on how his career's rich tapestry can be best represented in 2½ hours. Personally, I would have canned some of the prosaic folk-rock of his eponymous debut and the over-arching preposterousness of certain of the selections from "Goodbye And Hello" in favour of a richer trawl through Buckley's 'difficult' middle career - there's nothing from "Lorca" here, and a befuddling mere three tracks from "Starsailor", often cited as his most daring album and the only one that is currently unavailable on any format. The inclusion of "I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain" and the version of Fred Neil's "Dolphins" from the "Dream Letter" concert recording would have also brought the package closer to completeness for me.
Nevertheless, what we have here is still a very passable first cut at illuminating the career of one of the finest singers of the late 20th century, an accolade accorded not only because of his remarkable voice, which swoops, dive-bombs, whispers and growls through these CDs like nobody else's, with the possible exception of his equally ill-fated progeny Jeff, could, but also on the strength of the hallucinatory genius of his songwriting. From the sonic overload of the "Goodbye And Hello" album are drawn the bitter, finger-stabbing, Kinksian social observation of "Pleasant Street" and the tinkling troubadour lamentation "Once I Was". On the other side of the coin, that album's titular eight minute prog-folk excursion has aged the least gracefully of anything in the Buckley canon, and, exquisite song though it is, repeated listens to "Morning Glory" have me siding with the hobo, rather than Buckley's naïve, inquisitive college kid. The jazzy spring-clean of what was arguably Buckley's most consistent long-player, "Happy Sad", is well represented by "Buzzin' Fly" and "Strange Feelin'" (two songs that, in retrospect, seem as though they could have been tailor made for the singer-songwriter explosion of the early 70s: as usual, lonesome Timmy was too far ahead of the curve). Perhaps the twelve minutes of "Love From Room 109 At The Islander (On Pacific Coast Highway)" would have been a little too indigestible in this company, so its exclusion is grudgingly accepted.
Six immaculate numbers escape from "Blue Afternoon", wholly representative of that album's languid, post meridiem mood, with special mentions going to "I Must Have Been Blind" and "The River". Those aforementioned three "Starsailor" tracks include the cheery, cheeky Franglais cabaret of "Moulin Rouge" and the thrashing, angular, African jazz that constitutes "Monterey". And, of course, "Song To The Siren", possibly Buckley's most famous song, briefly taken to the charts courtesy of 4AD's art-goth ensemble This Mortal Coil. Having never before heard the original, this was the most revelatory moment of the whole collection, especially as Buckley's soaring vocals render the lyrics (which were inspired by Homer's "Odyssey") rather more decipherable that Liz Fraser's ethereal gurgling. CD2 gambols to a close via a representative selection from the lust-drenched monster funk of "Greetings From L.A." (imagine a seedy white guy trying to match Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On"), about as much as you need to know about the overproduced atrocities that were "Sefronia" and "Look At The Fool" and an early version of "Song To The Siren" originally aired on The Monkees' television show, of all places, no doubt to much oyster-puzzled confusion.
So, is this set for you? If you've only heard the music of Buckley Jr and are understandably interested in tracking his mercurial muse back to the source, no other currently available Tim package makes such a fine attempt to collate the disparate strands of his wild, wayward career. If you have at least a passing interest in Tim's music and are unwilling or unable to round up a full set of his albums, "Morning Glory" is a fine way to bridge that gap. And if you know nothing at all about the man or his music but quite like the idea of surrendering completely to the presence of utter genius for a few hours, hop on.
Another product of the posthumous Buckley industry, "The Dream Belongs To Me" gathers up a selection of 1968 demo sessions, originally released on the internet-only CD "Works In Progress", and introduces them to a 1973 set that sees the light of day here for the first time. The 1968 tapes capture Buckley at the point where the arc of his experimentation was arguably at its steepest. Recorded just ahead of his most consistently satisfying album "Happy Sad", these songs map out the kind of folk-jazz amalgam that Van Morrison was also forging contemporaneously on "Astral Weeks". Buckley's brew is sparser, but just as bewitching, the material encompassing the finest "Happy Sad" had to offer - the songs "Ashbury Park" and "Danang" demoed here were later reworked as that album's epic "Love From Room 109 At The Islander" - and his trademark "Song To The Siren", still three years ahead of its definitive studio incarnation. Wonderful stuff, but expectedly so.
The 1973 session was hardly a guaranteed success, comprising rough, initial sketches for material that would eventually surface on Buckley's final two legend-sapping albums, "Sefronia" and "Look At The Fool". But amazingly, freed from the deadening effect of overproduction, these versions reveal the material to be the equal of just about anything else Buckley had previously recorded, slinky, sensitive and subtly funky. The real revelation is the previously unreleased track that provides this collection's title: any lyric that begins as audaciously as "I had a love affair with a cross-eyed flamingo" is hardly evidence of an author's declining inspiration. In fact, these versions play similar mind games to those tricked out by John Lennon's "Anthology" box, being rougher, tougher and leaner than their released equivalents, a tantalising glimpse of how astonishing those albums could have been. If you have any more than a casual interest in Tim Buckley's music, you need this disc.
TIM BUCKLEY Starsailor (4 Men With Beards)
Long unavailable rights issues have kept it off CD aside from a brief appearance in 1991, and now for sale either via iTunes or as this 180 gram vinyl reissue Starsailor is the cultiest entry in this cult artists canon. Fearlessly experimental in songwriting, arrangement and production, even those seduced towards it by its most famous three minutes, Song To The Siren, might be shaken by what lies in wait.
Come Here Woman opens with some gravity-defying highwire pipe organ tricks, shuffling time signatures and tune fragments as lonesome Timmy yowls stuff about how horny hes feeling, probably, although its difficult to be certain given how far his sheets of sound veer from conventional singing (Let me smell your thighs, mama being one of the more lucid pronouncements). Almost Beefheartian in its clashing yet interconnected dischord, it plants proceedings firmly in the (somewhat large) space between Trout Mask Replica and Astral Weeks, serving notice that the diffident folkie of Once I Was and Morning Glory has been left far behind. I Woke Up is languid, hazy and abstract, perhaps the albums Beside You if the Astral Weeks comparison holds any water. Its notes sound like theyre clustered together for shelter rather than to serve a melody. In stark contrast, Moulin Rouge is a cheesy, cheeky little Franglais pop song; almost totally at odds with the rest of the album (and the rest of Tims catalogue, come to think of it) it nevertheless can claim some kinship with son Jeffs habit of covering Edith Piaf songs. The aforementioned Song To The Siren remains, to the best of my knowledge, the only Tim Buckley composition to dent the UK singles charts, in the form of This Mortal Coils glorious rearrangement. The original sounds positively aquatic: Lee Underwoods electric guitar lines are less like a melody than the clank and chatter of boats moored in a darkened, fogbound harbour.
Jungle Fire describes an ecstatic upward trajectory, albeit via a meandering, idiosyncratic melodic path, Buckleys vocal dissolving into a kind of yodelling yelp before jumping ship for the frenetic main section. The title track finds the album at its most divorced from normality yet: Electric Ladyland-style tape trickery whirls around the soundstage as Tim exercises his alien vocabulary. And then, The Healing Festival takes all that and adds screaming, Coltrane-in-extremis saxophones and a sped-up, chopped-up Black Sabbath-esque bass riff, and suddenly the album has become some kind of sonic horrorshow. The relative calm of Down By The Borderline is still staggeringly far out, with its mariachi intro, jazz guitar riffs and Buckleys whimpering, moaning, scatting voice work, all covered in great globs of weird.
Perhaps Starsailor broke Tims artistic back. Hed never record anything as outré as this again, perhaps fortunately. But then again, considering the artistic bankruptcy of his final years, perhaps not.
4 Men With Beards vinyl reissue, though obviously a laudable service to humanity, isnt much of an acoustic delight, sounding a bit vague and distorted in ways that have me questioning its fidelity to the original mastertape. Admittedly, the bearded gentlemen quartet make no claims of sonic authenticity, but given the calibre of the artists corralled in their reissue programme the inner sleeve, itself a delightfully subtle echo of the product placement CBS and Warner Bros. used to slip into their albums in the 60s and 70s, lists, among many interesting and significant others, Big Star, Judee Sill, The Velvet Underground and Scott Walker the quality of the music involved would more than justify the Herculean labours demonstrated by the likes of Mobile Fidelity and Analogue Productions, for example.
DAVID BROWNE Dream Brother The Lives And Music Of Jeff And Tim Buckley