Tim Buckley – Honeyman

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In the days before the internet, and MTV, the radio was an important source for live music broadcasts (bootlegs were expensive and not always easy to come by). And for those lucky enough to own a decent tape deck, it was a wonderful way to build up a collection of tapes to share with your friends or sometimes make them drool with envy.

Originally recorded and broadcast on 27th November 1973, Honeyman is one of several posthumous live albums released after the death of singer extraordinaire Tim Buckley, and is in my opinion, one of the best, especially if you’re a fan of Buckley’s porno-funk period, which began with 1972’s Greetings from L.A., and ended with the largely underrated Look at the Fool, sadly Tim’s final LP issued just two years later.

Tim Buckley is probably best remembered as an avant-garde folky possessed with almost operatic tonsils; however Tim was not your average over-sexed and troubled troubadour singing about lost love and sun-loving insects. Sure, his 1966 self-titled debut was well rooted in the whole folk aesthetic, but by his second album, he was already incorporating elements of pop and psychedelia. Jazz was another genre he was enthralled with, where improvisation was a fundamental key to unlocking all manner of possibilities, a desire which would ultimately culminate in 1970’s Starsailor, an experimental cocktail of erratic chord changes and tempos that saw Buckley stretching boundaries and increasingly utilizing his voice as an instrument. Unsurprisingly Starsailor failed to resonate with even many of his own loyal fan base, and so over the next year or so the young musician began to realise that if he wanted to pay the power bills, he needed to rein in some of his more adventurous leanings and combine them with a more popular approach.

After a brief applause the show begins with a song Buckley had been performing for a number of years, Fred Neil’s stunningly melancholic “Dolphins”. Tim, by now, had pretty much made the song into his own, with a mournful vocal delivery that successfully brings out the fragile, aching beauty of the lyrics. And when he sings “This old world will never change the way it’s been/And all the ways of war won’t change it back again/I’ve been out searchin’ for the dolphin in the sea/Ah, but sometimes I wonder, do you ever think of me”, it’s as if he’s singing from the very depths of his heart and soul. He would finally get around to recording a version the following year for his Sefronia album, but here he absolutely nails it.

The band move immediately into “Buzzin’ Fly”, a track off Buckley’s Happy/Sad LP, and is a tender, gentle way of warming up the audience for what he and the band are about to unleash. And so they do, with the sweaty, sexually energised “Get on Top”, from Greetings from L.A. Here Tim not only ‘talks in tongues’ but manages to convert the song into a sort of funk-erotic exorcism, scatting his vocals, while emitting all manner of weird and unusual sounds with his voice along the way. The song unexpectedly shifts into “Devil Eyes”, another Greetings… tune, which is also heavy on the funk, and fraught with lyrics which are as bawdy as they are openly visual. I’ll say one thing; Buckley doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Like a bunch of Bonobo monkeys coming down from the trees and bonking each other senseless.

And now that we’ve wiped the perspiration from our brow and changed the sheets, “Pleasant Street”, from Goodbye and Hello is next. What was originally a kind of psychedelic-folk ditty back in 1968 is here transformed into a gritty R&B number. One thing I must say is that guitarist Joe Falsia is superb, adding just the right amount of tone and touch to each song as the mood requires. “Sally Go Round the Roses” is a cover of the early 1960’s hit single by the Jaynetts, but Buckley manages to transform it into a more arousing and steamy experience.

Of the next two performances, “Stone In Love” is the least interesting. The song is saved by some inspired playing by Falsia, but I can’t really think of anything else to recommend it. Likewise the title track which lumbers along in funky fashion despite some impassioned vocals by Tim. It would have made a suitable  b-side to “Get on Top”.

Suitably the performance ends with “Sweet Surrender”, another track off Greetings, and it remains one of Buckley’s best. This is without a doubt one of the finest tunes ever written about adultery. Not only does Buckley admit to it, but he even justifies it: “Now you wanna know the reason/Why I cheated on you/Well I had to be a hunter again/This little man had to try/To make love feel new again”. And you know, because of the way he croons his lines, even I might have been tempted to forgive him. But seriously, Tim really pulls out all the stops on this one, and represents R&B at its greatest. How this song never reached a wider audience I have no idea.

If there are any other live recordings from this period then one would hope that the powers that be decide to do the right thing and release them before they further deteriorate. All other albums documenting Buckley in concert are from the 1960’s, a significant era obviously, but it’s a shame that we haven’t seen more from his later career, which in my mind is just as vital. And although nowadays it’s probably his son Jeff who gets the majority of adoration, especially amongst the younger crowd, and who is, I guess, akin to a sort of Nick Drake of the 90’s, it’s Tim himself who for me remains the most alluring.

Why he never achieved commercial fame is a mystery. Yet perhaps it was Buckley who best described his lack of mainstream success when he said: “I haven’t deliberately avoided fame. It’s just that I’m too odd for the white middle class. But I’m happy. I get to create. There’s nobody like me so they’ve got to keep me around. It’s like the predicament of Roland Kirk. Nobody’s going to… go to his concerts like they might go to a Stones concert. Roland’s expressing too much for people to accept.”