Tim Buckley - 12-string guitar, vocals; Carter "CC" Collins - congas, percussion; David Friedman - vibes
At age 21 in 1968, singer-songwriter Tim Buckley was beginning a musical metamorphosis. The young folksinger with an astonishing voice was becoming an altogether more experimental musician, one who would blur the lines between folk and jazz and reveal a vocal, melodic, and poetic talent that continues to mesmerize listeners to the present day. At the time, blending jazz elements and spontaneous improvisation into folk music was no easy task and endeared him to relatively few. Buckley would simultaneously alienate folk and jazz purists, as well as his own management and record company, but he was determined to follow his own vision. That determination and artistic integrity would soon bear fruit that in retrospect remains some of the most compelling music by any singer-songwriter of that era.
Released in 1967, Buckley's second album Hello And Goodbye, laid the groundwork. Instrumentation by percussionist Carter Collins and jazz guitarist Lee Underwood tastefully colored Buckley's songs. He was clearly heading into uncharted territory and the album presented Buckley in the first throes of experimenting with his heaven-sent tenor. With a lush 12-string guitar sound and a voice capable of a four-octave range, Buckley delivered an emotionally challenging album fueled with songs of yearning, loss, and regret as well as joy and ecstasy, often simultaneously.
However, it was in live performance over the course of the following year that all the elements would truly coalesce. Buckley would add vibraphonist David Friedman to the proceedings, adding an even jazzier feel and more unique color and flavor, which in turn inspired him to fearlessly explore his voice. Buckley began spontaneously molding his voice to the material, utilizing its full range, from low guttural growls to soaring high trills that he could seemingly sustain as long as he liked.
It would be another year before his next studio album (Happy Sad) saw the light of day, but unearthed and released 15 years after his death, Dream Letter, was the real proof. Containing the complete July 10, 1968 live recordings of Tim Buckley's first London concert, Dream Letter captured the fruits of his new vision just as they were ripening. Upon release in 1990, this recording would be received by fans like manna from heaven. Universally acknowledged as the most important live recording of Buckley ever released and often cited as one of the great live performances of the 1960s, Dream Letter certainly captured a mystical moment and remains an exquisite listen.
Presented here for the first time ever is Tim Buckley recorded just two weeks later when he returned to America to perform at the annual Newport Folk Festival—a recording many have dreamed about, but was never previously known to exist. Newly unearthed and mixed from the original four-track master reels in the Newport Festival Archive, this clear live recording is yet another astonishing example of Buckley at that same pivotal moment in time. Accompanied by David Friedman on vibes and Carter "CC" Collins on percussion, this trio format performance finds Buckley acknowledging his folksinger roots and forging ahead.
Presenting many performers each day, stage time was limited for each artist at Newport. This didn't exactly facilitate long improvisations, but Buckley makes the most of it, delivering four engaging performances during his time onstage. Following the introduction and tune-ups, Buckley gently but firmly draws the audience in with "Buzzin' Fly," which would be featured on Happy Sad the following year. A melodic ode to both new love and love lost, "Buzzin Fly" quickly casts a spell.
A penetrating take on the Civil War ballad, "Wayfaring Stranger," follows. With sentiment against the Vietnam War beginning to reach a fevered pitch in 1968, Buckley's commitment to the material is palpable and his vocal is breathtaking. He conjures up elaborate images with just the manipulations of his voice, and although he spontaneously experiments, he never loses sight of the core feeling in this traditional song.
The high point of the recording follows as Buckley soars on an impassioned reading of Fred Neil's "The Dolphins." Another plea for peace, this song has been covered by hundreds of artists, but Buckley's take is truly riveting. With vocals spanning Buckley's bottom-baritone to his high counter-tenor, "The Dolphins" is a fine example of his vocal delivery being more evocative than the lyrics and melody. Friedman's vibes contribute a dreamy otherworldly feel to the proceedings, and he and Buckley play off each other, displaying a depth of feeling that is intoxicating. This would eventually surface years later on Buckley's Sefronia album in condensed overproduced form, but here it is free flowing and downright ecstatic.
This leaves the Newport audience clamoring for an encore. When the musicians return, several requests for "Morning Glory" can be heard offstage, one of his most recognized songs even today. (Many higher profile artists, as divergent as Blood, Sweat & Tears and Fairport Convention, covered this song.) Buckley obliges the request and in his only direct dialogue to the audience, jokingly says, "I'll do a song we learned off our second album." A gentle and seemingly simple song, "Morning Glory" is melodically beautiful and deceptively deep in content.
This 1968 Newport performance reveals Buckley just beginning to create the new musical hybrid that would anchor his legacy. This is folk music to be sure, but it is folk music beginning to mutate into a form that revels in a lack of musical boundaries.
Written by Alan Bershaw