Thursday, December 28, 2017

Tim Buckley: “Venice Mating Call” (2017) CD Review

I became aware of Tim Buckley pretty early on in my life because of his appearance in an episode of The Monkees, my favorite television show when I was growing up. In the episode – one of the series’ best, by the way – you can hear Micky Dolenz introduce him from off screen, “This is Tim Buckley,” and Tim sits down to play a song, “Song To The Siren.” There is no real fanfare, no explanation. It was like you were supposed to know who he was, and so I wanted to learn who he was, particularly as the song was so good. The song was beautiful and delivered with honesty and simplicity, an interesting folk song. I soon learned that Tim Buckley did not limit himself to folk music, and used a fairly wide range of styles to suit what he wanted to say at any particular time. You can hear that in the new two-disc live album, Venice Mating Call, which features previously unreleased concert recordings from 1969 (a year after his appearance on The Monkees). These were recorded at the Troubadour in West Hollywood at a series of shows that also yielded the 1994 release Live At The Troubadour 1969. None of the tracks from that release are duplicated here. Apparently, Tim Buckley did five shows at the venue over the course of a few days, so there were several versions of each of the songs to choose from.

The first disc consists of songs that came mainly from two studio albums, Happy Sad and Blue Afternoon, the latter of which hadn’t yet been released. It opens with “Buzzin’ Fly,” a song originally included on Happy Sad. It is a wonderful love song that speaks pretty strongly to me these days, with lines like “You're the one I talk about/You're the one I think about/Everywhere I go/But sometimes, honey/In the mornin'/Oh, I miss you so/That’s how I know I’ve found home.” This is a really good version, building in power. That’s followed by “Strange Feelin’,” another song from Happy Sad. The jazz element isn’t as strong on this version as on the album version. To my ear, it has more a psychedelic vibe, and it features an excellent, interesting vocal performance. Obviously, these songs aren’t necessarily in the order they were performed at the time, or even from the same show. At the very end of this track, you can hear Tim say, “You want to do ‘I Don’t Need It To Rain’?” But then that track is followed by “Blue Melody.” The liner notes for this set feature some good photos, as well as snippets from interviews with Lee Underwood and Larry Beckett, but I wish they also included information on which tracks come from which shows. Anyway, “Blue Melody,” a song from Blue Afternoon, features another unusual and impressive vocal performance, with jazz influences. I really love the mood of this one. “Late in evening/I'll sing in your dreaming/Down from the mountains/Along with the breezes.” At the end of this track, he calls out the next number, “(I Wanna) Testify,” but that is not the next song on the disc.

When I was a kid, and first getting into Tim Buckley’s work, I found some of his music had a haunting quality. At that time, it was unlike anything else I’d heard, and it was intriguing. “Chase The Blues Away” certainly possesses that quality. It is also from Blue Afternoon. It’s easy to get caught up in this song, to let its mood envelop you. Tim Buckley then displays his sense of humor as he introduces “Venice Mating Call,” the instrumental tune used as the title track for this release. He says, “This is called ‘Venice Mating Call,’ or ‘All We Are Saying Is Give Smack A Chance.’” This tune has a very different vibe from the previous tracks, with a bit of funk, a bit of soul, a loose, groovy tune with some cool percussion. This song was also included on Live At The Troubadour 1969 (where he introduces it the same way), but the version here is significantly longer. It leads straight into “Gypsy Woman,” a wild, long tune from Happy Sad, featuring another seriously good vocal performance. The jam includes a section that is vocals and percussion, and then just percussion. There is a weird cut in the song, where we get six seconds of silence, just before the seven-minute mark. “Gypsy Woman” is followed by another cool, long tune, “I Don’t Need It To Rain.” Wow, at eleven minutes, it’s still a good ten minutes shorter than the version included on The Copenhagen Tapes. Tim Buckley introduces the band after this tune, and that’s how the first disc ends.

The second disc includes every song that would be included on his 1970 studio release Lorca, as well as one song that Tim Buckley never included on a studio release. This disc opens with “Driftin’,” a track which has more of that haunting, moody style. “But for me you were a lover/Gently under your cover/Your sheet reeks of others/I came here to hold and be held for a while.” That’s followed by “(I Wanna) Testify,” a song that was not included on any of his studio releases. The jam has something of a San Francisco psychedelic quality, particularly in the electric guitar. And, yes, I’m definitely digging it. There is also some cool work on bass. “(I Wanna) Testify” leads straight into “Anonymous Proposition.” The lyrics are somewhat different from those that would be included on Lorca. The first lines in this rendition are: “Love me as if someday you’ll hate me/For what I am now/How long will our love last/Now that I care/Only as long as you’re mine.” The version of “Lorca” included here is also different from the album version, in some of the lyrics, but also in the sound, in the vibe. I actually much prefer this live version, with that cool percussion, and it ends up being one of my favorite tracks. I also really like “I Had A Talk With My Woman,” which follows it. Check out these lines: “Lord, I’m but half a man without her by my side/Oh, but her memory I hold inside/It’s a dream that I believe.” The second disc then concludes with “Nobody Walkin’,” the song that also would be the closing track for Lorca.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Buzzin’ Fly
  2. Strange Feelin’
  3. Blue Melody
  4. Chase The Blues Away
  5. Venice Mating Call
  6. Gypsy Woman
  7. I Don’t Need It To Rain 
Disc 2
  1. Driftin’
  2. (I Wanna) Testify
  3. Anonymous Proposition
  4. Lorca
  5. I Had A Talk With My Woman
  6. Nobody Walkin’
Venice Mating Call was released on October 13, 2017 on Manifesto Records.

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