The late, legendary
vocalist – and Jeff Buckley’s father – remains ripe for rediscovery. A deluxe
reissue duly sets the process in motion.





There’s a curious quirk in the way folkrock-cum-avant-troubadour
Tim Buckley’s back catalog has been handled. Following his tragic overdose death
in ’75 and starting around 1990 when the Enigma Retro label issued the
revelatory, critically hailed Dream
Letter: Live in London 1968
, Buckley has been archived and annotated to a
degree that rivals his ex-wife Mary Guibert’s tireless efforts to ensure their
late son Jeff’s legacy gets preserved for posterity. It’s not every day a
father and son get the proverbial hot-sexy-dead! treatment (and neither Buckley ever came close to selling in the numbers
that Jim Morrison and the Doors enjoyed). But both Buckleys were loved in their respective
lifetimes, and they remain eternally ripe for rediscovery by new generations of
music fans.


The rub, of course is that Guibert, via the patient archivists
at Columbia Records, Jeff’s label, has been able to systematically mine, and
control, the younger Buckley’s recorded legacy to an exacting and exhaustive
degree. (To that end, it’s worth noting how Guibert’s legal team is notorious
for combing the internet to ferret out any signs of, shall we say, unauthorized commercial activity as
regards the search term “Jeff Buckley”; pity the poor novice eBayer who posts
for sale, say, some collectible promotional vinyl, CD, or poster, only to wake
up the next morning to discover a Guibert-instigated eBay takedown notification
flashing in neon letters on the computer screen.) Tim Buckley, however, with
his back catalog spread across several labels, has seen his nine studio albums
slip in and out of print seemingly at random, reissued on sundry domestic and
overseas labels, with apparently only his Elektra-era output remaining
available on a semi-consistent basis – and then, only as bare-bones-packaged “super
saver” editions. Indeed, just a couple of months ago, the UK wing of
Rhino Records reissued those five LPs as part of their budget-priced “Original
Album Series.”


Meanwhile the gold mined from vaults housing unreleased TB tapes,
though invaluable, has largely been at the hand of myriad collectors who, in
possession of or coming across a trove of audio reels, partnered with indie labels
to shepherd the material into the public’s hands. The discography published at
Buckley archival site suggests exactly that. Just to cite a few
titles: there’s the aforementioned Dream
; Morning Glory, which
collects BBC recordings; The Dream Belongs to Me: Rare and Unreleased 1968 – 1973, unreleased
studio tracks via Manifesto; Honeyman,
another Manifesto Records title, of a ’73 WLIR-FM radio broadcast; Live at the Troubadour 1969, courtesy a revived
Bizarre/Straight imprint that Rhino briefly established; Works in Progress, circa-’68 demos pulled from the vaults by Rhino
Handmade; Live at the Folklore Center
, an intimate early audience recording, on Tompkins Square; and quite a
few more, some of them now out-of-print imports. For some reason, Buckley has
been largely ignored by the bootleggers and pirates, with only a handful of
titles appearing over the years, although collectors do still eagerly swap FLAC
files of the underground DVD The
Starsailor is Coming Home
, a wonderfully-compiled collection of BBC and US
television appearances that include the singer’s jaw-dropping 1967 performance
of “Song to the Siren” on The Monkees along
with the entire live-on-a-soundstage broadcast of 1970 PBS program Boboquivari.


So while there is in fact plenty of manna out there to keep
the diligent Buckley collector on the prowl, it’s a damn shame that nothing systematic
in terms of curating his oeuvre has ever been attempted, certainly not in terms
of comprehensive remastering projects or concerted pulling together of tracks
(including period-specific unreleased ones), art and text in the service of telling
the complete story. Granted, son Jeff benefits from the recency effect of
initially emerging during the CD era and also from having been on a single
label during his lifetime. But to the rest of us who love both Buckleys, and
particularly those of us who were smitten by Tim first and therefore gravitated
to Jeff as a result, it just ain’t fair.




Into the gap steps Rhino, who as suggested a couple of
paragraphs earlier has been one of the few constant patrons of the posthumous
Buckley. (Manifesto Records as well, although that label appears to be largely
dormant at the moment.) Welcome Tim
Buckley: Deluxe Edition
, originally offered as a Rhino Handmade mail-order
only item in late 2010 and now more widely available via the distribution
muscle of fellow archivist Light In The Attic. This expanded version of
Buckley’s 1966 self-titled debut is now a two-CD collection boasting stereo and
mono mixes of the original LP, all exquisitely remastered; a bonus disc of
previously unreleased pre-LP material recorded in ’65 and ’66; and elaborate
packaging that, for long-suffering Buckley fans, will make mouths water.


It’s evident from the outset what both artist manager Herb
Cohen and Elektra Records head Jac Holzman heard in the artist when deciding
they wanted to work with Buckley. Aside from the octave-traversing elasticity
of the then-19-year-old’s vocal cords, the dozen songs of Tim Buckley are remarkably forward-looking for a product released
prior to Sgt. Pepper’s, a blurry rush
of contemporary folk-rock, garage-spawned psychedelia, orchestrally-tinged pop
and sundry leftfield flourishes. It commences peppily enough with “I Can’t See
You,” Buckley skipping across extemporaneous, poetic lines of romance and
longing while musical foil Lee Underwood lets loose a barrage of twangy, jazzy
guitar licks. The majestic, strings-laden (courtesy arranger Jack Nitzsche) “Wings”
is next, followed by smoky, hypnotic freak-folk template “Song of the
Magician.” From there the rush of aural delights never lets up – jangly rocker
“Aren’t You the Girl,” the modal guitars and swaying strings of “It Happens
Every Time,” a neo-barrelhouse romp called “Grief In My Soul” that features a
young Van Dyke Parks pounding the ivories, the West Coast-style psychedelic
blues of “Understand Your Man.” Over the years Tim Buckley has frequently been typecast as a “folk” album Buckley
cut to get his music-biz feet wet while plotting a path to his subsequent
experimental phase (e.g., 1970’s Lorca),
but nothing could be farther from the truth. Virtually every genre of the era
is represented here, with Buckley testing the limits of his own voracious
musical appetite and rarely, if ever, uttering a musical cliché.


Following those 12 songs is the entire album again in its
original mono mix, something of varying interest depending on the listener’s audiophile-geek
(or otherwise…) predisposition. To these ears, the lusher, more expansive
tracks don’t really work in mono, although a full-on rock number like
“Understand Your Man,” cranked up loud, holds its own quite nicely. Meanwhile,
over on Disc Two one encounters no less than 22 previously unreleased cuts that
appear to have been tucked away in the back of a closet for over 40 years. The
first dozen, “The Bohemians Demos,” were recorded in Anaheim in ’65 by Buckley’s
high school band The Bohemians (they included drummer Larry Beckett, who also
co-wrote most of the material with Buckley), and while appropriately lo-fi,
Handmade has given the demos a decent clean-up job. It’s the sound of kids
working through a garage-rock jones – particularly on Nuggets-worthy tracks like “Let Me Love You” and the twangy “You
Today” – alongside moody folk-rock and the like, such as the Youngbloods-like
“No More” and an early stab at “It Happens Every Time.” Following The Bohemians
session are ten “Acoustic Demos” dating to the summer of ’66 featuring just
Buckley on vocals and guitar with Beckett adding some song intros and spoken
word passages. Several tunes would go on to be re-recorded as full band
versions for Tim Buckley, so it’s
instructional to hear, for example, Buckley’s original (and already complex)
arrangement for “I Can’t See You,” or the subtle Brit-folk inflections of a nascent
“Aren’t You the Girl.” There also comes a delightful moment midway through the
latter cut when for some reason Buckley cracks up laughing and almost stops,
then keeps going; for the remainder of the song you can tell he’s grinning (at
Beckett, presumably) as he sings.


The Handmade package is a 6″ x 6″  chipboard-stock cardboard “wallet” trifold
with a crimson string fastener; the two discs are each housed in individual
mini-LP sleeves; and there is a 20 page booklet with track annotations,
striking black-and-white photos (including a devastating Joel Brodsky portrait
depicting a beatific, beaming Buckley), and incisive liner notes from Buckley’s
longtime co-writer Beckett and journalist Thane Tierney. Beckett, writing
movingly of his dead friend, notes, “His tenor voice, strong and pure, [burned]
through octaves and styles, to his own bright melodies… We broke through [the]
distance with music.”


He’s right, too – in these songs you can hear the initial
stirrings of something legendary, yet you also bear witness to something
already robust and profound in its own right.


For all you aforementioned long-sufferers out there, Tim Buckley: Deluxe Edition offers hope
that eight more studio Buckley LPs will eventually be resurrected in expanded
and remastered form. It’s high time.


[Photo Credit: Joey Brodsky]

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