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12 May 2010

Tim Buckley - 'Happy Sad' (Elektra)

This is overall my fave Tim Buckley record. It's the transitional one, where he's arcing up towards the stratosphere, knees tensed slightly. Or maybe he just heard Astral Weeks and said 'I gotta get some of that." "That" being the sound of pure liquidity; a record of ebbs and flows that bursts free with joyous character and somehow looks ahead to the even more out-there futurism of Lorca, Starsailor and the funky stuff. If you don't believe me, listen to the urban bongo grooves of 'Gypsy Woman', which dominates side B with its dark voodoo. It's partially due to the band really finding its voice, with Lee Underwood's lead guitar going apeshit here and on other tracks; not really being familiar with the in-between album, Goodbye and Hello, I'm not so sure how gradual this change was. It's pure jazz and Buckley lets his voice take a backseat at times, but knows when to let it rip. 'Gypsy Woman cast a spell on me / no mama don't you lie...' rips out like Robert Plant's 'Whole Lotta Love' bullshit, but this anticipates it, and this band rips the head off anything Zep ever did. (Though, can I name a single member of Buckley's backing band without looking at the liner notes? Can anyone?) But 'Gypsy Woman's histrionics belies the true beauty of this record, which is in the gentle rumbling grooves of the calm tracks. And let's not forget to mention David Friedman's vibes, which utterly transform a song like 'Buzzin' Fly' into a transcendent gem. Love is in the air and it's simple but with a biting undercurrent. 'Strange Feelin'' nails this, and it's a hell of a one-two punch with 'Fly', possibly being the greatest one-two punch in the history of rock music where both songs contain trailing apostrophes. 'Love From Room 109' is the difficult beast, which takes on the extended form in a moody workout, recalling the other epic folk jams of its day ('Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands' and that song on the first Neil album come to mind) but with a somewhat more watery presence. Maybe this stuff influenced shit like Dave Matthews Band but to my ears it's a magical blend, where everything is just right. There's more contemplative photos of Buckley on the sleeve for the teenyboppers to stare at, though I'd like to know how this went over with the pop kids. While some tracks are certainly accessible, like the straight-up folk beauty of 'Sing a Song for You', this sounds like a band that realises it has no limits. They make not take full advantage of this freedom quite yet, but it's on the horizon.

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