Listen to this track by musical chameleon, vocal titan and otherwise folk-jazz-whatever singer-songwriter Tim Buckley. It’s “Song Of The Siren”, the version which appeared on his 1970 album Starsailor.
The song had been around for a while, featuring in particular on his 1968 musical guest appearance on the very last episode of The Monkees TV series, of all things. In that appearance, the song is decidedly folkier and more vocally polite than the one you’re hearing here. Buckley was a restless artist, constantly on the move and seemingly driven to push his own artistic boundaries, sometimes to a fault when considering his commercial footholds, or lack thereof. During his particular era, changing tracks musically, or in fact building one’s own track from scratch, was a trickier thing than it is today. The template for that kind of career wasn’t quite set across the board.
Regardless of all of that, Buckley’s “Song Of The Siren” is one of his best known songs, even if it appeared on an ablum that wasn’t exactly mainstream-friendly. So, was Buckley trying to accomplish by retooling it? Read more
Listen to this track by lyrical folk-jazz singer-songwriter Terry Callier. It’s “Dancing Girl” the jewel in the crown of his 1973 album What Is The Color of Love?, Callier’s third album after his 1968 debut.
Callier represented a fairly untraveled section of the pop music spectrum, standing somewhere between folk-rock, jazz, and soul music. Gil Scott-Heron, Curtis Mayfield, Roy Ayers, and John Martyn may seem to be comparable artists who take up a similar space along that spectrum. Yet, Callier is a singular voice.
Beyond a cult following, Callier didn’t achieve the visibility of other singer-songwriters of the era. Perhaps this was because his music is not easy to pin down, and therefore not aimed at any one specific audience. What his music does do is to evoke spiritual images, yet remaining rooted firmly in the physical world at the same time, often making direct comment on the poverty and hopelessness to be found in inner city America. And “Dancing Girl” is one of the best examples of this, a portrait of an idealized woman, and yet reaching beyond into something that resembles a spiritual journey.
What is behind this song, and what does it say about its creator? Read more
Listen to this track by British folk-jazz super-group that included Bert Jansch, John Renbourne, Jacqui McShee, Danny Thompson, and Terry Cox; Pentangle. It’s “Light Flight” a single from their celebrated 1969 album Basket of Light.
Along with Fairport Convention, The Incredible String Band, and Steeleye Span, Pentangle was a key group in the emerging British folk-rock sound by the end of the 1960s. However, it has been pointed out by critics, fans, and even band members, that jazz had far more to do with their sound than rock ever did.
This idea is certainly evident in this tune, with shifting time signatures being pretty far away from the rock backbeat, and more in line with the polyrhythmic nature of modern jazz. In this song, all of the instruments drive the rhythm, including McShee’s vocals in this folk tale (actually an original by McShee) that served as a single, reaching a modest #43 in the UK charts in 1970, and serving as the theme song for British series Take Three Girls.
But, where jazz chops certainly informed this piece, particularly from Thompson and Cox who came out of that musical stream, one of the more interesting things about it has to do with the nature and structure of the traditional British folk music that inspired the band’s sound in equal measure. Read more