Tim Buckley

Wings: The Complete Singles 1966-1974

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Tim Buckley was a singularly gifted singer and songwriter, but his body of work seems to defy the traditional logic of a single-disc career-spanning anthology. Buckley was a creatively restless artist, and he jumped from solo acoustic purity to folk-rock to psychedelia to jazz to R&B to purposefully scuzzy rock in the course of a recording career that lasted just eight years. The beauty and strength of his voice and his skills as a songwriter were the sole unifying threads in his discography, and many fans will even argue about those when it comes to his final three albums. 2001's Morning Glory: The Tim Buckley Anthology comes closest to capturing the artist's many facets, in part because it's a two-disc set that takes the time to examine his catalog with real scope, but Omnivore Recordings has taken a novel approach to summarizing Buckley's work with Wings: The Complete Singles 1966-1974. This collection features 21 songs that were released as single sides during Buckley's lifetime, including one unreleased track that was intended to be the B-side to a 1967 45 that never saw the light of day. The previously unheard number, "Lady, Give Me Your Key," is a gem, a lovely exercise in Baroque folk-rock that certainly justifies the release of this collection, as well as the inclusion of classic tunes like "Morning Glory," "Once I Was," "Aren't You the Girl," and "Pleasant Street." But Wings also confirms one bit of conventional wisdom about Tim Buckley: he thought in terms of albums, not singles, and as good as most of these tracks are, they sound a bit too ornate to have been pop radio favorites in their day. One senses the labels who released these tracks were grasping at straws choosing which might miraculously please a radio programmer. This set also passes on some of Buckley's best known songs because they were never released in 7" format (most notably, "Buzzin' Fly" and "Song of the Siren"), and three of his albums -- 1969's Happy Sad, 1970's Lorca, and 1970's Starsailor -- are completely unrepresented. However, while 1973's Sefronia is generally considered a botch, Buckley's cover of Fred Neil's "Dolphins" is here to show the album had a hidden gem, and the R&B raunch of "Move with Me" and "Wanda Lu" plays better here than in the context of the albums where they were first released. Wings doesn't do better than most Tim Buckley collections in making sense of his fascinating, sometimes contradictory songbook, but it does bring together an hour of good to brilliant songs from a one-of-a-kind artist, and the set includes an interview with Buckley's friend and writing partner Larry Beckett that lends some welcome insights into how these recordings came to be.

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