If you know of singer Tim Buckley only as Jeff Buckley’s father—or don’t know him at all—you’re in for a major treat. Where to start? Probably with the first four of the nine studio albums he issued before succumbing to a heroin/morphine overdose in 1975 at age 28. After that, you’ll likely want to move on to the rest of his impressive catalog, which includes lots of posthumous releases. The latest of those include remasters of albums that have been available for some time as well as some fantastic previously unavailable material. Let’s take a look:
Venice Mating Call and Greetings from West Hollywood. These two albums, whose must-hear contents are all previously unreleased, were recorded in September 1969 at the Troubadour in L.A. Greetings from West Hollywood, which is available in the States on LP and in the UK on CD, contains nine tracks; Venice Mating Call, a double CD package that includes excellent extensive liner notes by coproducer Pat Thomas, offers two of the same performances, plus different versions of the other seven tracks on Greetings, and four additional tunes. Both albums repeat many of the titles that appear on 1994’s Live at the Troubadour 1969.
Buying either—much less both—of the new records might seem unnecessary if you already own the earlier Troubadour CD, but that’s not the case. One reason is that most of the performances are different—sometimes very different—on Venice, Hollywood, and Troubadour. Moreover, the new albums add four tunes that don’t appear on the earlier record. True, you can find a live reading of one of them—the sublime “Buzzin’ Fly”—on the essential Dream Letter: Live in London 1968; but “Anonymous Proposition” and “Lorca” (both of which surface on the 1970 studio album named for the latter song) are difficult or impossible to locate elsewhere in live versions; and “(I Wanna) Testify” isn’t even available on studio LPs.
Still, you may be asking yourself why anyone needs two or three live versions of a song from Buckley, even if they’re significantly different. But if that’s what you’re wondering, you almost certainly haven’t heard him work his magic. He was one of the most gifted and inventive artists of the entire rock era. His vocal range and improvisations can take your breath away and his best performances—which meld folk, jazz, blues, and psychedelia—are astonishingly good. (Trust me, I’m not throwing these superlatives around lightly here.) Moody tone poems like “Blue Melody,” “Strange Feelin’,” and “Chase the Blues Away” are unforgettable, as is the expansive “Gypsy Woman,” one of the most erotic songs ever recorded. And then there’s “Buzzin’ Fly,” which surely ranks among the most beautiful love songs of all time. Once you’ve heard these numbers, you’ll likely be hungry for all the versions you can find. This is music for the ages.
The Dream Belongs to Me. This recently reissued album, which first appeared around the turn of the century, proves slightly less consistent than Venice Mating Call and Greetings from West Hollywood but also ranks as a must-buy. It includes 14 well-recorded, previously unreleased recordings, among them a few (“Falling Timber” and the title cut) that had been unknown. Six tracks come from 1968 and another eight from the 1973 sessions that led to Buckley’s Sefronia album. Highlights abound, including a long, dreamy reading of “Sing a Song for You” that outshines the one on Happy Sad, plus versions of Blue Afternoon’s “Happy Time,” Happy Sad’s “Buzzin’ Fly,” and Starsailor’s “Song to the Siren.” From 1973 comes such raunchier material as “Honey Man” and “Stone in Love.” In my view, a few of the tracks from this latter year are subpar, but overall, this album is terrific.
Sefronia and Look at the Fool. These albums, which originally appeared in late 1973 and late 1974, respectively, have just been remastered and packaged with booklets that include lyrics and new annotation. The former disc is notable for covers of Fred Neil’s “Dolphins” and Tom Waits’s “Martha,” while the latter consists solely of erotically tinged funk originals, a few cowritten with longtime Buckley collaborator Larry Beckett.
These albums—the last ones released by the singer during his lifetime—both garnered poor reviews at the time they first appeared. Like Dylan’s Self-Portrait, though, they may be due for reassessment. Clearly, Buckley was in decline and floundering when he made this music. But there are nevertheless satisfying moments on both albums and even the lesser efforts are worth hearing. This is probably nobody’s favorite Buckley period, but the instrumentation is great and his elastic multi-octave voice remains a marvel to the end.
Note: Sefronia, Look at the Fool, and The Dream Belongs to Me are available on CD on the Manifesto label in the U.S. and on the Demon Music Group’s Edsel label in the U.K. Manifesto also offers Venice Mating Call on CD and Greetings from West Hollywood on LP while Edsel offers both those albums on CD.