Thursday, December 02, 2010

Tim Buckley “Starsailor” (1970)

Tim Buckley had already begun to alienate his folkie fanbase with “Lorca” a few months earlier– what the hell was up with this golden-voiced disciple of Fred Neil? Why would he release an album filled with meandering free jazz-like structures and vocal gymnastics that made it sound as though he was being disemboweled? Well, if they wuz bewildered by “Lorca,” “Starsailor” musta felt like a kick in the groin. Not only was it a continuation of the avant garde themes which in hindsight, he’d barely scratched, it was a full-on operetta revolving around the pit of anguish that burned in his guts; he also began to fully utilize the five and a half octave vocal range he had at his disposal.

I’m gonna hazard a guess that Buckley had been listening intently to Leon Thomas– particularly his work with Pharaoh Sanders on “Karma.” He liberally borrows Thomas’ conventional-croon-to-absurd-yodel on several tracks, most notably “Monterey,” a dissonant Voodoo Blues that conjures a vibe equal parts atavistic ritual and sleazy mating call. Bunk Gardner, late of the Mothers of Invention, provides some Ornette-esque sax squawk, further pushing the song into uncharted territory– at least for the early 1970’s zeitgeist. “Moulin Rouge” is a brief slice of Franco-Pop that coulda easily been recorded by Edith Piaf– I only mention it as it is one of the few cuts that provides a respite from the suffocating melancholy and bordering on psychedelic experimentation that makes up the rest of the LP. For instance, the ethereal title track is akin to smoking far too much DMT, only to discover that instead of encountering the promised elves hiding in the artificial netherworld, you find yourself surrounded by bloodthirsty, shapeless abominations far outside the realms of HP Lovecraft’s worst nightmares. Lee Underwood’s stellar guitar work also deserves a nod. His connection with Buckley borders on preternatural– be it the spare, mournful licks he uses to accompany Tim’s wounded wail on the oft-covered/butchered “Song to the Siren,” or the majestic, fleet-fingered riffs that double Buckley’s vocal on “Come Here Woman.”

If you’re new to the elder Buckley, this may not be the best place to start. I’d recommend “Dream Letter: Live in London” for virgins, as well as for fans of his offspring, a certain Jeff. –Jake P

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