Tim Buckley – Sefronia

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While Greetings from L.A. is widely considered as Tim Buckley’s own attempt at breaking into the commercial market (and a brilliant one I might add), his next effort, Sefronia, was even more so. Although unknown to either Buckley or the music industry in general, Tim’s talent was far too great and complex for your ordinary listener. And just as some of his earlier, more free-form explorations, as on 1970’s Starsailor, may have baffled some, his latter attempts at remoulding himself as a funk-rock artist baffled others. Basically the man just didn’t know exactly where to fit in, nor what would it take to get a hit song on FM radio.

Undeterred by the relative lack in sales of Greetings Buckley chose to preserver and have another crack – and why not. Although the expression of Tim’s face pretty much says it all, as if he’s saying “Please buy this album because I’m desperate. I hate what I’m singing but purchase it anyway since it will release me from my misery.”

Apparently Buckley had been suffering from a head cold during the recording sessions, but the listener wouldn’t know based on what is presented here. His cover of Fred Neil’s “Dolphins” is certainly a keeper, and perhaps the best interpretation I’ve heard, although maybe a touch too melancholic and reflective for the masses. The band goes through the motions on the white funk of “Honey Man”, before Buckley strives for a potential hit with “Because of You”, where Tim’s disco-falsetto is magnificent yet poorly placed in terms of context.

More interesting is “Peanut Man”, where Buckley is obviously more in his element. And as much as I love the vibe, it will always sound like an advertisement for Coca Cola. His version of Tom Waits’ “Martha” is literally more than my stomach can handle. The original has a way of getting through to the heart, whereas this rendition is simply vomit inducing, in a Sound of Music kind of way. “Quicksand” is just that, a sinking pit of funk-rock in which poor old Buckley seems incapable of pulling himself out of. And when you think it can’t get any worse, the insipid “I’d Know I’d Recognise Your Face” is nothing more than embarrassment and a waste of Buckley’s talents, no matter how well intended. I mean what is this, the Love Boat?

He redeems himself on “Stone in Love”, however I have to say that the band do sound like they’re going through the motions. The two part “Sefronia: After Asklepiades, After Kafka/Sefronia: The King’s Chain” is worth hearing for Buckley’s voice alone if little else, and harkens back to his earlier, more experimental work.

He blows his competition away on the laid-back “Sally, Go Round the Roses”. And while no “Sweet Surrender”, Tim’s vocal powers are nevertheless on full display on this one that’s for sure.

Why Buckley never managed to connect with a wider audience is hard to understand. All that arty-folk-inner-navel stuff is brilliant for those who love to hang out in cafes and discuss Arthur Rimbaud while listening to Bob Dylan, but Greetings from L.A.? How that album couldn’t have been a hit remains a mystery. Not so this sad carcass, which I’m afraid to say, is a poor specimen in comparison. There are some excellent moments no doubt, enough to enchant the listener, yet Buckley had so much more to offer, more than what the general public were able to digest.