"You've got the untortured mind of a woman who has answered all the questions before."
Tim Buckley's eponymous debut has long been saddled with the title "Buckley's most conventional album," and while this may be true to some extent, it should be remembered that such a statement is usually made in reference to Buckley's uncompromising later work, which has a way of making almost anything compared to it sound conventional. In actuality, Tim Buckley, while clearly bearing the imprint of its time, is redolent with hints of the idiosyncratic brilliance that would make Buckley's later albums so distinctive. The album's back-story is the stuff of legend: Buckley, toiling away in an OC band called The Bohemians, takes a drive with some of his band-mates up the 405 to Hollywood to see The Mothers of Invention play. As it turns out, Buckley's bassist had briefly worked in a guitar store with Zappa's then-drummer, who decides to mention The Bohemians to Zappa's then-manager, Herb Cohen. Of course, Cohen recognizes Buckley's genius immediately but has no interest in the rest of the band; thus, Buckley is reborn as a solo artist. Cohen manages to land his new discovery a deal at Elektra, and the label's figurehead Jack Holzman takes a personal interest in the project, enlisting the legendary Paul Rothchild to man the production booth along with engineer Bruce Botnick (they would also helm The Doors' debut around the same time). Holzman spares no expense, bringing in well-known session players (such as Van Dyke Parks and Lee Underwood) and an arranger for strings (the inimitable Jack Nitzsche) to add further ornamentation to the sound. Reportedly recorded in a mere two days, Tim Buckley can best be described as an overly fussed-over, sometimes over-melodramatic, yet often masterful piece of baroque mid-sixties folk-pop. On the lead single, "Wings," Buckley's wonderfully expressive voice marries nicely with the almost-too-pretty arrangement, which is augmented by some gorgeous guitar chime from Lee Underwood. Buckley turns in a powerful performance; his voice often overpowering the syrupy string arrangement. While Buckley's nascent experimental tendencies are mostly kept at bay by Holzman and co., they do flicker into the foreground on "Song Slowly Song," a free-flowing, almost improvisational song that features one of Buckley's more unconventionally understated vocal performances. This is one of those albums that I've tended to overlook, but going back and listening again has reminded me what an impressive debut this was- and then I recall he was all of nineteen at the time!