Sefronia by Tim Buckley


On this day, in 1994, Arthur gave me an HMV voucher which I later exchanged for “August And Everything After” by Counting Crows. This led me to go to see them at The Cambridge Corn Exchange where, arriving ten minutes after the support band started, I came across an exceptional band called Cracker. This, in turn, resulted in me playing “Happy Birthday To Me” this morning from their eponymous first album.

On this day, in 1975, I had a corridor party at Royal Holloway College which involved a keg of fizzy beer, pork pies and a number of friends including Alex and Mary who stayed the night on my floor. This was the first time I had met Mary and she reminded me a few days ago that it’s now 15 years since Alex died.

On this day in 1962, my Mum baked me a cake on top of which which she carefully arranged a green marzipan cricket pitch with three chocolate stumps. It was a work of art so lovely that a) I remember it 60 years later, b) nobody else in the family wanted to spoil it by cutting it but c) I ate a huge portion. (I don’t actually remember that but it would not have been like me if I hadn’t).

Today, Roo and I are in the middle of a week’s holiday in a calf shed in Cranborne Chase, Wiltshire. It’s been converted into beautiful accommodation – there are no calves here but an inquisitive hare stares in most evenings. Our plan today is to drive South, to Durlston, just the other side of Swanage, where we intend to go for a cliff top walk (Roo has hired a mobility scooter), where it is alleged that we may be able to spot some dolphins.

It was only a few days ago that I listened to Fred Neil’s wonderful album, “Other Side Of This Life”. His song, “Dolphins”, is the opening song on “Sefronia” and, as with most Tim Buckley albums, the change of direction from the previous album is dramatic. Whereas “Greetings From L.A.” ended with the lyrics, “I’m looking out for a street corner girl and she’s gonna beat me, whip me, spank me”, “Sefronia” opens with “I’ve been searching for the dolphins in the sea”. Tim Buckley had been singing the song for at least five years by this time, as evidenced by its inclusion in “Dream Letter Live In London 1968”. The song has been covered by many other artists including Dion, Richie Havens, Harry Belafonte, Linda Ronstadt, Billy Bragg, The The and Beth Orton. The meaning of the song eludes me and it has been called fathomless, a pun I quite like. Nevertheless, it’s a haunting ballad which allows Tim Buckley’s voice to thrill us all, as it always does, whatever style of music he chooses to adopt.

After the commercial failure of the second and 36th best albums of all time, (“Starsailor” and “Greetings From L.A.”), Tim Buckley was determined that his next album should be a huge seller. He hired Denny Randell to produce the album who worked in A&R for Discreet, Tim Buckley’s record label which was founded by Frank Zappa. The album should have been more widely appreciated as Side One is one of those 20 minute, perfectly sequenced suites of music which never fail to maintain interest. Think “Moondance” by Van Morrison or “Back In The DHSS” by Half Man Half Biscuit.

Track 2 is “Honey Man” and is in complete contrast to “Dolphins”. It would have fitted nicely onto “Greetings From L.A.”, being a hard rock song with screaming lead guitar from Joe Falsia, who would go on to produce Tim Buckley’s next (and last) album, “Look At The Fool”. The lyrics can be interpreted any way you wish. “When the bee’s inside the hive, you’re gonna holler in the thick of love”.

“Because Of You” is possibly the best song on the album but one of the least accessible. It’s a slow, fluid, soulful vocal set against an abstract backing track over which Tim Buckley delivers one of his best performances, using the full range of his voice from deep baritone to high falsetto.

“Peanut Man” owes a lot to “Coconut” by Harry Nilsson. It would have made a great single with a catchy chorus, great backing vocals and a sax solo.

This brilliantly sequenced side of music finishes with “Martha”, a Tom Waits song with a heavily orchestrated backing. This was the first time I had heard of Tom Waits and I immediately explored other albums by him, expecting a traditional folk singer, little realising that Tom Waits’ approach to singing was as individualistic as my approach to dancing. In Tim Buckley’s hands, this is to “Starsailor” what “When I’m 64” is to “Revolution 9”. That’s not to say that I don’t like it, I do, but it’s not what we had come to expect from Tim Buckley.

Side Two of the album is excellent. “Quicksand” is a great rocker; “I Know I’d Recognize Your Face” is a duet between Tim Buckley and Letty Jo Baron and typifies early 70’s AOR; “Stone In Love” is a mediocre rock song and gives a foretaste of “Look At The Fool”; the title track is split into two sections and is reminiscent of “Love From Room 109 At The Islander (On Pacific Coast Highway)” from “Happy/Sad”. Finally, “Sally Go Round The Roses” is a cover of a hit single by The Jaynetts from 1963.

“Sefronia” achieved a double whammy for Tim Buckley. It was heavily criticised by reviewers for selling out and it sold very few copies. He had one album left before his untimely death two years later.

Just got back from the Jurassic Coast. Beautiful scenery. No dolphins. Interpret that, in the context of this album, as you will.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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