Tim Buckley, Captured Live in 1967 | Bleader

Tim Buckley, Captured Live in 1967

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Few musicians have transformed their art as often and as thoroughly as Tim Buckley did between 1966 and 1975, when his brief career ended with his untimely death at 28. He quickly veered from ethereal folk-rock singer to wildly exploratory vocal improviser to funky blue-eyed soul man, with many fascinating twists and turns in between. Two weeks ago the excellent Tompkins Square label released a live solo set from March 1967 that captures Buckley in the middle of one of those transitions; it was recorded at New York’s legendary Folklore Center, a small performance space owned by Izzy Young and located above a folk-music store, in front of an audience of about 35.

The intimate concert was taped just a few months after the release of Buckley's self-titled debut and a few months before he was to make his first masterpiece, Goodbye and Hello. Both in its setting—Young's venue was best known for booking hard-core folkies like Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Bob Dylan, and Dave Van Ronk—and in the audible influence that quirky contemporaries like Karen Dalton, Tim Hardin, and Fred Neil then had on Buckley, the recording clearly links him to the folk revival. But the meat of the performance—from his manic, overstimulated strumming to the jacked-up tempos to the drifting melodies in some of his originals—makes plain that Buckley was headed someplace else. It’s almost as though he were trying to make up for the absence of other musicians—he could usually count on them for lines, colors, and tones to play off of, but here he seems determined to do everything himself.

Tunes from his debut, like “Song for Jainie” and “Aren’t You the Girl,” sound more intense than the band versions on the LP, and on “Just Please Leave Me” (previously unreleased) it almost seems like Buckley’s head is going to explode. If there’s a problem with the collection it’s that Buckley sometimes overdoes it, pushing his remarkably transcendent voice into a piercing cry that rings hollow; in later years he gained a razor-sharp control of his instrument, brilliantly modulating it in daring improvisations that retained a crucial sense of proportion.

Despite its rawness, this material holds up well—it does more than just fill in a few blanks on the Buckley timeline. His version of Neil’s classic “Dolphins,” which Buckley made his own and performed throughout his career, is beautiful and exquisitely controlled, and his clear, delicate reading of “Carnival Song” is just plain gorgeous. The set was recorded by Young on a Nagra tape recorder, and while the sound is a little thin, the tape doesn't seem to be showing its age.

Today’s playlist:

Tomutonttu, Tomutonttu (Fonal)
Marc Ducret, La Sens de la Marche (Illusions Music)
A Certain Ratio, Sextet (Universal Sound)
Ray Russell, Secret Asylum (Reel)
Ry-Co Jazz, Bon Voyage! (RetroAfric)

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