Tim Buckley was an artist who was always in a state of flux. Even in his folk-balladeer early days he was a bit scattered and all over the place, a wandering troubadour one moment, a wailing and forlorn lover the next. But it all seemed to fit in place, and even when it seemed a tad forced, each song was stamped with that “Tim Buckley sound.” Little did folks know that he had many more sounds up his sleeve, as his third album, Happy Sad, finds him stepping almost completely away from the singer/songwriter spotlight to explore the less confined fields of jazz.
Always willing to open his heart in song, the themes of love and loss and regret are familiar, but here Tim really begins to bare his soul, using his fantastic voice (a full five octaves) to draw the listener in, not just to understand but to also feel his pain. He’s crooning here, stretching his lyrics to fit the draw of the music, taking things down to a somewhat lower register from the lady-sweet sighs and cat-scratch callings of his first two albums, and this fits him well, making his gut-groans believable and his pleas for forgiveness easily granted. Here, on Gypsy Woman particularly, we see the first true example of Buckley using his voice as an “instrument” if you will, performing a visceral, almost animalistic warm up for the vocal acrobatics that would both highlight and distract from later works like Lorca and Starsailor.
Yet there are certain familiarities present, and none more important than his right hand man and secret weapon Lee Underwood on lead guitar, creating runs and counter melodies that not only push these loose, free-flowing songs to their fullest potential, but also keep them reeled in and structured.
This was a highly personal album for Tim, especially on the song Dream Letter, which acts as an open apology to his ex wife and their son Jeff (maybe you’ve heard of him), whom he never knew and only met once (sometime after this song was recorded). And while sadness is the pervading feeling of Happy Sad, it’s not depression, for interwoven amongst the tears are strands of hope and the idea that tomorrow promises to be a better day.
I’ll close this one out with a live take on the closer from the album, Sing a Song for You, which is less like the bulk of Happy Sad and more like his earlier work, and yet the sentiment remains.