"There ain't no wealth that can buy my pride. There ain't no pain that can cleanse my soul."
Following the release of what many believe to be Tim Buckley's most enduring album, Happy Sad, on which Buckley had introduced a new palette of Jazz-inflected textures to his Folk-based aesthetic, he decided the time was right to make some radical changes in both sound and approach. To begin with, during the months he spent touring in support of Happy Sad, Buckley had grown increasingly disenchanted with playing to the expectations of both the music press and his fan-base, both of which, it seemed, were steadfastly invested in seeing him embrace the role of torchbearer for a folk music scene, that, by the late sixties, was quickly losing steam in the U.S. As the tour progressed, Buckley began introducing new material that was based on a highly improvisational minimalist Jazz approach; he simultaneously began exploring new minimalist-informed arrangements of his older material as well. And, inspired by avant-garde vocalists such as Cathy Berberian, Buckley soon began to push his multi-octave voice to new, decidedly un-Folk-like, extremes. He was also at a crossroads in terms record labels: Elektra, whom he owed one more record, was about to be sold by Jac Holzman; his old manager and close friend Herb Cohen was starting a new label, Straight Records, with Frank Zappa; and, as part of a distribution deal, he owed an album to Warner Bros. As a result, in mid 1969, Buckley recorded three albums in one month, two of which he produced himself.
Two of these albums constituted a significant and startling sonic departure for Buckley, as on Lorca and Starsailor, he explored his burgeoning interest in minimalist Jazz using a largely free-form compositional approach. However, Blue Afternoon, recorded immediately after the extremely unconventional Lorca, in many ways reaches back to the sound and approach of Happy Sad. Lee Underwood: "By the time Tim had evolved into the beginnings of his avante-garde phase with Lorca, it was conceptually regressive to go back to Happy Sad's aesthetic perspective for Blue Afternoon." Nevertheless, "[s]ome of Tim's all-time great songs are on that album [....] True, Blue Afternoon was a collection of old songs, but it was not a collection of unreleased out-takes from previous recording sessions. We recorded them new and fresh specifically for that album [....] Tim knew Lorca was unlikely to be a big hit in the marketplace. He loved Blue Afternoon's old tunes, which had found no home elsewhere. He was shifting labels, moving from Elekra to Herb's new label, Straight, and he wanted to help give that label a commercial launch. For all those reasons, Tim and the rest of us worked as hard as we could on Blue Afternoon, even though it was a conceptual step backwards [....] it was also an effort Tim wanted and needed to make."
Underwood might have characterized Blue Afternoon as a case of conceptual regression, but it would be hard to argue that it is anything other than an artistic triumph. While it was critically reviled upon its release, the album has grown in stature to a significant degree in the decades since its release despite being out of print for much of that time, and though it is usually characterized as little more than an extension of the Happy Sad sound, careful listeners will detect subtle signs of Buckley's more avante-garde inclinations occasionally shining through. The Blue Afternoon sessions were recorded in New York City using the same musicians who had worked on Happy Sad with the addition of drummer Jimmy Madison, while many of the songs themselves were compositions that had failed, for one reason or another, to find a place on Buckley's earlier albums but were deemed too good to remain orphans. While the earlier versions of these songs, which can be found on Works in Progress, are beautiful and revelatory in their own right, Blue Afternoon stands as perhaps Buckley's purest distillation of the Folk-Jazz hybrid that he, along with Fred Neil, either invented or entirely transformed. One of the album's gems is "I Must Have Been Blind," which is easily the equal of anything on Happy Sad, and while on one level it is a fine piece of modern Folk, the unconventional choice of instrumentation, especially the prominence given to David Friedman's vibes, lends the song a strange ethereal feel that compliments one of Buckley's more retrained vocal performances. And then there's "Blue Melody," one of Buckley's best compositions and jaw-droppingly beautiful in this languidly jazzed-up version. What makes Blue Afternoon such a timeless album is its emphasis on dynamics, as the loose interplay between vibes, percussion and Buckley's haunting vocals results in a fluid form of musical expression that differentiates this album from virtually anything else falling under the broad categorical term "Folk." Tim Buckley: "Music. It's the total communication between people in a room. You can take me to a political rally and the relationship between the politics and the people is pretty far removed, so that room doesn't cook. I see music and religion- like the gospel thing- and that cooks. But I see the music as separate from God. The people may do it out of praise for God, but what happens in that situation happens because the people are singing their souls out."
(Enigma Retro/Straight ~ 1989/1970)
1. Happy Time (3:17)
2. Chase the Blues Away (5:14)
3. I Must Have Been Blind (3:46)
4. The River (5:49)
5. So Lonely (3:30)
6. Cafe (5:28)
7. Blue Melody (4:56)
8. The Train (7:56)