"Although it sometimes seems that there are more albums re-issued on CDs than ever could have been available on vinyl in the first place, there are a few notable albums for which no CD version is available. The recent overhaul of the Neil Young catalogue righted a few wrongs, but key albums by Albert Ayler, Alice Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Terry Riley and Toru Takemitsu remain undigitised, not to mention a hole slew of Motown albums. I particularly mourn the absence of Annette Peacock's I'm The One and Tim Buckley's albums Blue Afternoon and Starsailor.
However, Starsailor (and Blue Afternoon) had come out in America on Rhino in 1989 but had quickly disappeared in some kind of legal wrangle involving Frank Zappa's Straight/Bizarre labels, for which the album had originally been recorded in 1970.
At its centre lies the starkly brilliant Song To The Siren, best known in its wonderful incarnation by This Mortal Coil, whose watery evocation of the tragic tidal pull of the sirens chillingly prefigures the premature death by drowning of his son Jeff Buckley in Memphis's Mississippi River. Elsewhere Tim's inspired vocal heights are matched by his own 12-sring accompaniment; the extraordinary, sympathetically fractured guitar and elemental keyboards of Lee Underwood; the deathless imploding bass of John Balkin; the Miles-inspired wind instruments of Buzz and Bunk Gardner and Maury Baker's traps and tympani. At times light and celebratory, and at other times harrowing and deeply primal these are songs that find unique territory to stake out and claim.
If the previous album, Lorca, sounds as if it is out on the edge looking for a foothold, on this album, that foothold has been found, and the ideas fully realised"
SO GOOD IT ALMOST RUINS ALL OTHER MUSIC
David Wightman | 01/12/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It is a complete injustice to Tim Buckleys memory that this album is unavailable. I mean, we can buy cds of stuff that he never intended for release but we can't buy this which he considered, and quite rightly, his greatest achievement. Because of legal hassles we are denied the beauty of Starsailor. Well not quite denied, we could pay ridiculous amounts for one of those rare cds that are out there or we could track down the vinyl. I managed to download the album by dubious but not immoral means, (surely it is more immoral for the music to die than to be heard). I recommend you do the same. Once you've heard this album then all other music will sound dull in comparison."
Buckley's greatest work
J. R. P. Wigman | Netherlands | 09/13/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Tim Buckley travelled along a lot of musical paths, and some of these travels resulted in glorious records. "Happy/sad" is the album I love best, but "Starsailor", while more difficult to get into, is very likely the artistical high point of his career. I should mention that I'm not totally convinced of the contributions of Lee Underwood to Buckley's records: his shadow looms heavily over a lot of Buckley's work and as he's not the genius Buckley was, his presence sometimes is a bit much, and this holds true for "Starsailor" as well. On the other hand, all other contributors to this album deserve a lot of praise for outstanding work. I find side one (with songs like Come here woman and Moulin Rouge) the weaker of the two, but side two can't be faulted. Suberbly imaginative and experimental songs flow in a well chosen order, leaving the listener completely stunned. Most famous of course is "Song to the Siren" which doesn't need any introduction. Nevertheless, it's not the greatest song on the record. It's "Starsailor" itself. What an amazing piece of experimental work it is! The words of a great poem ("I am a bee out in the fields of winter ....") are twisted and turned in a swirl of Buckley voices, giving the song an otherworldly atmosphere. I feel that there are some ways out of the stalemate of the "pop/rock-format" which has been milked totally dry and one of them is signposted by this Tim Buckley song. A lot of people reviewing this album seem to focus on songs like "Song to the Siren". I'm telling you that the real treasure lies in the song that gives the album its name. Whenever this album is available again snap it up like lightning, because this is one of the truly great modern records."
One of the best.
Steven Rokosz | Michigan | 12/07/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Few artists can lay claim to the uncompromising artistic integrity that Tim Buckley displays on Starsailor and which helps make Starsailor one of the greatest moments in the history of recorded music. Tim could care less what you thought about his songs and he certainly could care less about what the record companies thought. Buckley lays out his tortured soul for the duration of the album in a pure way that has no regard for the rules of conventional folk or rock music. With its fractured, wild vocal melodies and lack of traditional song structure, hardly a note on the entire record seems like it was planned in any way by Buckley. I doubt that Buckley was even consciously aware of the feelings that he airs out in Starsailor. Just as he begs of the listener, he learns as he goes and takes his voice wherever it may lead him, whether that be into shrieks, yodels, howls, or groans. Buckley regresses to a point deeper in our musical history and unleashes the remnants of a primitive or tribal instinct buried deep within us. As one listens to Starsailor, it is easy to imagine Buckley playing for an audience at a sacrificial bonfire in the middle of a jungle in sub-Saharan Africa. The sounds contained in Starsailor are free, organic, and celebratory, but they are also simultaneously pained and frightening.
Starsailor kicks off with "Come Here Woman", a song that bleeds of desperation and lust for a girl that only wants to tease. The creepiness created by Buckley is propelled by the driving two-note guitar riff of Larry Underwood that drones on and burns into your psyche. Such a repetitive and simple guitar riff is characteristic of many of the songs on the rest of the album and aids Buckley's far-out vocals in adding a primitive edge to the tunes. "Moulin Rouge" is a more conventional tune that feels out of place after the mind-bending creativity that precedes it, but it is a gorgeous song in its own right that gets a little crazy as Tim sings in French near the end. The stripped-down and heavily emotional take on "Song to the Siren" presented here is far removed from the simple folk tune that Buckley had earlier performed on The Monkee's television show, with Buckley's wounded delivery and poignant lyrics working together to create what I believe to be one of the greatest songs of all time.
Things start to get really heavy in Side B. "Jungle Fire" is another highlight that showcases Buckley's vocal ability as he transitions from relatively normal to a yelling and yodeling madman by mid-track. Somehow he effortlessly makes it sound like a totally natural progression. "Starsailor-The Healing Festival" is clearly the most experimental track on an album in no shortage of experimental tracks. In this song, Buckley overlaid 16 takes of his beautiful vocals to create an immersive and truly original work of pure art. Starsailor ends much like it began in "Down by the Borderline", with Underwood hypnotizing you with a driving guitar riff as Tim once again demonstrates his amazing vocal acrobatics by stuttering and hopping all over the track. It's a more light-hearted and catchy number that would not sound out of place blaring on some tropical island.
Starsailor is a genuine rarity in music. It is a shame that more artists do not try the risk taking and artistic leaps that Tim shows in this set of songs, but given that the market for such original music is so small, it cannot be surprising. Although Tim will not be around to see it, his following will only increase as more and more people will discover it and pass on word of its power. For now it remains a cult favorite, but truly deserves to have the classic status that has been bestowed upon far lesser works."