mon 19/08/2019

Reissue CDs Weekly: Tim Buckley | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Tim Buckley

Reissue CDs Weekly: Tim Buckley

Indispensible collection of previously unheard 1967 tracks from the great singer-songwriter

Tim Buckley in 1967: moving at extraordinary speedThe Jack Robinson Archive LLC

The period between the October 1966 release of his eponymous debut album and its follow-up, August 1967’s baroque masterpiece Goodbye and Hello, saw Tim Buckley and his label Elektra reconsider how best to help him generate an impact. No matter how strong its songs and how unique his voice, the folk-rock styled Tim Buckley hadn’t been a big seller. Label boss Jac Holzman thought a non-album single would be good marketing tool, paving the way for a second album. One side of the shelved release surfaced in 2009 on the Where The Action Is! – Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968 box set. Otherwise, no studio recordings from this transformative period, when he was also teamed with new producer Jerry Yester, have been heard. Until now, that is.

Lady, Give me Your Key collects 13 previously unheard demo recordings from 1967, taped in the run-up to the proposed single and Goodbye and Hello. As such, this is a major release. The sources are a reel-to-reel tape (tracks one to seven) and a one-sided acetate (tracks eight to 13: a corresponding acetate with more tracks is lost) from Yester’s archives. Both sides of the unreleased single are heard in demo form: “Once Upon a Time” (the studio recording of which was issued on Where The Action Is!) and “Lady, Give me Your Key”. From the acetate session, “I Can’t Leave you Lovin’ me” was first heard on the 2009 Live at the Folklore Center 1967 CD.

Tim Buckley Lady Give Me Your Key  The new album then breaks down as: the two tracks for the single; five demoed for but not re-recorded for Goodbye and Hello (“Sixface”, “Contact”, “Marigold”, “I Can’t Leave you Lovin’ me” and “She’s Back Again”); six which were demoed and then newly recorded with Yester’s arrangements and production for Goodbye and Hello. On the acetate’s label, Yester had made a star mark beside the titles of the tracks he considered good to go for the new album (pictured below left). “No Man Can Find The War”, a highlight of Goodbye and Hello, had no such mark. Clearly, this was a fluid period.

Taking the proposed single first. The completed version of “I Can’t Leave you Lovin’ me” first heard in 2009 was an up-tempo folk-rocker with full-band arrangement and heavy shades of The Buffalo Springfield. It wasn’t strong, and if released would probably have made as little mark as Buckley’s debut album. While the demo of “I Can’t Leave you Lovin’ me” is (obviously) more skeletal as it’s just a man and his guitar, it highlights the song’s relative lack of interest. Mostly a straightforward strum-through, it sounds conceived to order rather than a song which evolved so found its own identity. The proposed B-side (the finished master of which is lost), “Lady, Give me Your Key” – the title is has a double meaning: key from the weight of cannabis, and the surface-level concept of finding an opening with a woman – is much more interesting and evinces the fully-formed portmanteau songwriting approach heard to full effect on Goodbye and Hello. A classic in waiting.

Tim Buckley Lady Give Me Your Key 1967 Acetate labelHearing the songs re-recorded for Goodbye and Hello is a jolt. Here they are, fully formed but not fleshed out with full instrumentation. Mostly, they could pass for the basis of the album versions. Lady, Give me Your Key shows that Yester’s album arrangements overshadowed nothing but enhanced and drew out the moods. The demo of “Once I Was” is electrifying: as if Buckley has suddenly plucked the whole song from the ether. The same with a spine-tingling though splashy “I Never Asked to be Your Mountain”. “Knight-Errant” is even more spectacular and the highlight of the familiar songs.

Of the unheard songs which did not make the cut for Goodbye and Hello, “Sixface” could be from Happy Sad, the next album. “Contact” isn’t so strong and structurally lumpy. “Marigold” though is wonderful and would have fit snuggly on Goodbye and Hello. As would the skittering “She’s Back Again” which, with its vocal leaps and intensity, also sounds ripe for an album or two down the line.

Released next week, Lady, Give me Your Key is important. The songs collected are not half-formed ideas but complete entities. Although manifestly not an entry point, anyone with a passing interest in Tim Buckley needs this. Essential to understanding his evolution, it also demonstrates the extraordinary speed his one-off talent was evolving.

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