Dream Letter: Live in London, 1968

Tim Buckley

album cover

A Masterpiece of Mystic Folk-Rock

Restless soul Tim Buckley (1947–1975) never stayed in one artistic place for long. At the time of his London Records debut in 1968, the singer, songwriter, and guitarist had two somewhat twee, rococo psychedelic folk-rock albums under his belt. Though both were acclaimed by critics, Buckley began moving in a different direction almost immediately—subsequent albums (particularly Happy Sad, from 1969) contain tunes with much looser structures, platforms for Buckley's wordless vocal flights and jazz-like group interplay.

This tour document, which features guitarist Lee Underwood and vibraphonist David Friedman, captures a potentially awkward transitional moment for Buckley—he is thinking in expansive, free-form terms, while his audience is expecting the saturnalia dreamscapes and wordy confessions of Goodbye and Hello. He manages to satisfy all here, looking both forward and backward in a way that makes Dream Letter a concise and ideal introduction to his work. Buckley serves up gorgeously pliant, questioning treatments of his familiar material as well as new songs in which his bliss-seeking voice is enhanced by Underwood, who sprinkles guitar serenity in the margins.

The group sounds like it's been playing together for years (in fact, British bassist Danny Thompson was recruited just for these gigs); they bring a spirit of purposeful seeking to Buckley's sometimes cryptic meditations and story songs. The notoriously flinty Buckley expands (but never tramples) his writing, by occasionally changing around the DNA of his melodies àla Bob Dylan. Several times he juxtaposes verses from different originals together: After a strong verse of his literary "Pleasant Street," he launches into a passionate rendition of the Motown hit "You Keep Me Hangin' On." It's a stroke of genius, the linking of crazy abstraction with a hook so urgent and universal it lights up everything around it.

Genre: Folk, Rock
Released: 1991, Manifesto/Bizarre-Straight
Key Tracks: "Buzzin' Fly," "Dolphins," "Morning Glory," "Pleasant Street/You Keep Me Hangin' On"
Catalog Choice: Goodbye and Hello; Happy Sad
Next Stop: Van Morrison: Too Late to Stop Now
Book Pages: 127–128

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#1 from CJ, San Francisco - 12/03/2008 8:24

I am glad to see both Jeff and Tim Buckley represented on this list.  Personally I prefer Tim Buckley’s music to his son’s, although both are eminently talented.  I think this album deserves to be featured.

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