Tim Buckley Recorded Live in San Francisco, 1968: Review

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Although he has never quite achieved the recognition he deserves, Tim Buckley was one of the most important and adventurous singer-songwriters of the late ’60s and early ’70s. He died of a drug overdose at age 28 in 1975, leaving behind only nine studio albums (and a talented son named Jeff). Since then, however, the size of his catalog has more than doubled, thanks mostly to the release of a variety of live sets.

The latest of these is Merry-Go-Round at the Carousel, which preserves performances at San Francisco’s Carousel Ballroom on June 15 and 16, 1968, when Buckley was arguably at his jazz-influenced creative peak. His vocals and guitar work are fine throughout, and his band—which prominently features bass as well as vibraphone and percussion—is compelling.

Included are sublime performances of compositions that originally surfaced in 1969 on Happy Sad (“Strange Feelin’,” “Buzzin’ Fly,” “Sing a Song for You” and “Love from Room 109 at the Islander”) and Blue Afternoon (“Happy Time”). Also here are “Wayfaring Stranger” and “The Father Song,” which first appeared on the posthumous Dream Letter and Works in Progress, respectively; and two previously unrecorded numbers, “The Lonely Life” and “Blues, Love.” The 13-track album runs about 80 minutes and comes with a promo code to download two songs that couldn’t fit on the CD: a second version of “Happy Time” and a reading of “Hi Lily, Hi Lo,” a number that first showed up on Dream Letter.

The performances were captured by Owsley Stanley, who is best known as the chemist who mass-produced LSD in the 1960s but also served as the Grateful Dead’s sound engineer and taped that band and other artists. The audio quality on this release is excellent, though several of the recordings, including both versions of “Buzzin’ Fly,” appear to begin just a bit after the songs commence.

Related: Another fine Buckley collection was released in 2016

The album, which comes with a booklet that includes new interviews with Buckley’s bassist John Miller and lyricist Larry Beckett, is a must for fans. Newcomers to his music should check it out, too—and then move on to the rest of his extraordinary catalog.

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