The arrival of new Tim Buckley material is always a call for celebration, and this new archival release, Live At The Electric Theatre Co., is most definitely a welcome addition. These recordings feature Buckley in trio form over a handful of performances in May 1968, featuring drummer Carter C.C. Collins and an unknown bassist, and they capture Buckley at a creative transition.
Buckley’s career had three distinctive periods. He began his career as a traditional folk musician. After a few years, he transformed his sound into one that blended jazz and folk. His last records were hard-hitting barroom blues-rock. The one common theme running through all these phases was Buckley’s amazing voice; an angelic, heavenly sound that could reach impressive highs. The recordings here nicely mix the better parts of his folk leanings with some of his more challenging vocal exercises. His takes on “Sing A Song For You,” “Gypsy Woman,” and “Happy Time”—all of which would soon appear on his albums Happy Sad and Blue Afternoon—offer an exciting glimpse of the one-two punch of his two 1969 albums.
But Buckley really shines when he lets go of all restraint and spends a lot of time getting inside the song. Though his backing band is rather minimal, they do a fantastic job transcending their limitations. An eight-minute take of “Big River” transforms Johnny Cash’s original into something entirely new—a gentle folk epic. His improvisations on “Sally Go ‘Round The Roses” and “Roll On Rosie” capture his restless spirit as he explores and breathes new life into two contemporary folk staples. Though he wouldn’t release his version of Fred Neil’s “Dolphins” until 1973’s Sefronia, the lengthy version here makes the song even more potent—and his rock version seem a wasted opportunity. Furthermore, the epic sixteen minute “Wayfaring Stranger” simply must be heard to fully appreciate.
Though theses recordings document a very fertile point in his career, his experimentation did not guarantee critical or commercial acclaim. In Buckley’s case, the eagerness and creative spirit heard here would ultimately with rejection and disappointment. Buckley’s story ended tragically in 1975 with his death from a heroin overdose. Live At The Electric Theatre Co. highlights a brilliant talent cut short way, way too soon.
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