Tim Buckley - Starsailor (1970), 9/10

Tim Buckley’s Starsailor is the rebellious and even more experimental younger brother of Lorca, also released in 1970; recording these two records within a year (September of 1969 and 1970 respectively) is an absolutely stunning accomplishment. Tim of course has some wildly impressive vocal performances elevated by extreme vocal experimentation, his voice was undoubtedly one-of-a-kind and had an infatuating and charming individuality elevated by his brave exploration and investigative progression. I do mean extreme when discussing his experiments; his vocals may seem absurd or even downright silly the first time you hear them. This can be heard most clearly on the title track, an otherworldly, chanting cacophony of voices bending and seemingly expanding the possibilities of Tim’s vocal range with their affectation of the spiritual and powerfully boundless feeling. With Starsailor, Buckley very clearly and finally evolved beyond the folk genre to incorporate more rock, jazz and psych elements. This transition began on Lorca (another impressive record but limited by its sentimentality for traditional folk and pop during its second half), but this record was a substantial and final leap forward into the unknown. The oddball track being the exception to this fact is surely "Song to the Siren" which was written and even performed live for television before the release of Starsailor. While the title track along with “Moulin Rouge” are abrupt changes among the otherwise bizarre set of songs, they are both impressively beautiful and charming, and add to the storytelling arc of the record. “Song to the Siren” harkens back to Tim’s earlier songwriting methods and showcases his very real talent for crafting an alluring and gorgeous ballad, and “Moulin Rouge” provides a charming little tune, expertly performed, and creates a wonderous juxtaposition against the rest of the album’s absurdity and violent examination of progressive rock and jazz with its affable French passages and congenial tone. The rest of these songs clearly come from an almost other-worldly sounding inspiration of forceful and deeply spiritual energy, something few artists could pull off with such grace. Luckily Tim was blessed with one of the most unique and versatile voices in rock music. This combined with a stellar band including Bunk Gardner of Mothers of Invention, elevates what are some expertly arranged songs to grander heights. 

Lee Underwood has some of his most impressive contributions from any Buckley album, which is saying something, and he is at the forefront of the arrangements this time along with Tim. Larry Beckett contributes some fantastic lyrics, as always, to accompany some of Tim's songs like "I Woke Up", "Song to the Siren" and "Starsailor". Buckley himself shows some pretty incredible composition and lyrical talent in the remainder. Maury Baker and John Balkin, who make up the rhythm section on drums and bass, both have some stellar and driving performances, particularly in "Come Here Woman", "Monterey", "Jungle Fire" and "Down by the Borderline". Not only are these performances technically impressive, but they accompany Tim's vocal exercises poetically and with a dexterity that feels effortlessly fluid. The instrumental meanderings can range from completely unhinged free improvisation to the occasionally subversive yet infectious hook-crafting heard on previous albums. The improvisation and technical execution of these free passages is sublime, offering songs that have significant compositional complexity and nuance that gives vitality to repeated listens; the album seems to have an almost literally infinite replay value because of these elaborations in conjunction with Tim's endlessly impressive and soulful vocal performances, accentuated beautifully by his truly poetic lyricism, an appropriately grandiose and abstract lyrical catalogue to match such liberating and rarefied music. The synergy of not only the band, but also in Balkin, Beckett and Buckley as songwriters and arrangers is more than clear in moments like these and extends through the entire track list, peaking perfectly with the closing moments of "Down by the Borderline" that finishes out the second half. While some experimental music falls flat for a lack of emotional relatability or grounding in intentional composition, Starsailor positively transcends these shortcomings by smoothly blending a mix of Tim’s folk roots, his vocal and vulnerably personal idiosyncratic eccentricities, and an absolutely unhinged set of emotionally moving performances from the band. Lorca's psychedelic-folk-jazz experimentation prepared the way for Buckley's experimental rock masterpiece that is Starsailor, Tim Buckley’s undeniably groundbreaking and earth-shaking magnum opus.