JEFF BUCKLEY Grace (Columbia)
O.K., so he's the son of probably the greatest voice the rock era has known, he plays Van Morrison's "The Things That Young Lovers Do", The Smiths' "I Know It's Over" and a twenty minute encore of Big Star's "Kangaroo" in his live set, and this, his first full-length studio album is produced by Nirvana/Sonic Youth associate Andy Wallace and features ex-Captain Beefheart's Magic Band member Gary Lucas' "magicalguitarness" on two tracks (and also Matt Johnson on drums, though sadly I suspect it's not that Matt Johnson, despite his admiration of Buckley Snr).
Get the impression we're in the presence of greatness here? I do, in fact I believe "Grace" to be the most important debut album of the year, possibly the decade. Jeff has inherited his father's incredible ability to send his voice swooping and diving, tickling even wordless backing vocals into heart-rending symphonies. But he doesn't stop there: I can hear the young Robert Plant in there as well, Lindsey Buckingham, bizzarely, even Freddie Mercury. So purely as a singer, he's as good as his dad, and then some.
As if that wasn't enough, he writes as well. Very well. Listen to "Lover, You Should've Come Over" and tell me who can better evoke the bitter longing of lost and broken love - certainly even the best efforts of professional misery brokers the Red House Painters or American Music Club look empty and superficial in comparison. Or take "Dream Brother", a mournful lament for a lost relative, not unlike the way Tim Buckley's "Dream Letter" was a mournful lament for a lost relative. Two letters, written 25 years apart, crossing in the ethereal post, made all the more poignant with the benefit of hindsight.
But, unusually, it's the three cover versions included here that take the album to an even higher plane: a heart-stopping "Lilac Wine", where every syllable comes direct from the vine, Laughing Len Cohen's "Hallelujah", prefaced by a world-weary sigh, which makes the orginal look like a drunken karaoke singalong, and even more incredibly, Benjamin Britten's "Corpus Christi Carol", in which Buckley's purest choirboy tones are made more unbelievable by the dirty growling Pearl Jam-esque rock 'n' roll of "Eternal Life" that follows it. Yet the album never sounds derivative: yes, the sinewy, twisted rhythms aren't unlike those that haunted Big Star's final cathartic album, the band do have enough chops to sound like early Led Zep on overdrive, and the songs are only seven-tenths his own, but right now, and probably never, nobody can make records that sound like Jeff Buckley's.
JEFF BUCKLEY Live At Sin-é (Big Cat)
JEFF BUCKLEY Last Goodbye (Columbia)
"Live At Sin-é" isnt a new album, sadly, but a mini-album originally released last year a few months before "Grace" and now trickling back into vinyl emporiums as the world waits with baited breath for more of the great mans muse. From the low-budget sleeve (replete with cutesy free! coffee cup stains for the ultimate in folk club chic - quite how thatd work on the CD booklet I dunno, unless you habitually drink from a thimble) Sin-é looks like some kinda New York café, and if you listen carefully you can hear the clink of customers stirring their cappuccinos. In a too-brief 25 minute set the boy wonder, accompanied only by his occasionally spiky, often flowing electric guitar playing, touches on "Mojo Pin" and "Eternal Life" from "Grace" ("This is about a dream", he notes helpfully about the former, whilst the latter is greatly improved shorn of its Pearl Jam-esque rock trappings), and (Edith Piafs?) "Je N en Connais Pas La Fin", which features some of Buckleys bestest dizzy, spiralling guitar work. The low point is, surprisingly, the closing ten-minute rework of Van The Mans "The Way Young Lovers Do", which heads straight for "shubbadubbasquebbebop" scat jazz hell and fails to return. Maybe its a family trait. Still, essential listening if "Grace" means as much to you as it rightly should.
"Last Goodbye" is the first British single release from "Grace", available in The Mans usual money-grabbing array of multi-part digipak formatery. I went for the limited 10" vinyl version (of course!), which contains the title track, a live acoustic take of "Lover, You Shouldve Come Over" and lengthy new tune "Tongue", recorded live to a used cassette according to the sleeve. If youve yet to hear any of Buckley Jrs work, "Last Goodbye" is the song thats most likely to impress on first listen, the closest he flies to whats considered commercial these days. Which isnt a criticism: here, given a bit more breathing space, "Last Goodbye" sounds even better than it does on the album, incredibly. The new version of unquestionably Jeffs best (self-penned) song, "Lover, You Shouldve Come Over", slows it down to an even more funereal pace, leaving it clutching at the eight-minuteometer. A bit too restrained and emotionally monochrome, by removing the trilling organ lines and Buckleys sobbing vocalising it changes from sermon to confessional. "Tongue" is a substantial disappointment, a seemingly endless swampy instrumental that constantly threatens to break into something more interesting, it first surfaced on the "Grace" import CD single, and should really have stayed there. No matter: in these times any Jeff Buckley material is welcome. A new album would be even nicer though.
JEFF BUCKLEY Live From The Bataclan (Columbia)
With still no sign of new material from Buckley Jr, we faithful have to make do with the continual trickle of live releases, this being one that first originated lashed to French copies of "Grace", and now filtering into the country on its own, at a correspondingly less-ridiculous price. "Live From The Bataclan" contains just four tracks, including a majestic reading of Buckleys own "Dream Brother", another cover of Van the Mans "The Way Young Lovers Do", which happily dumps much of the "Live At Sin-E" versions scat frippery, an Edith Piaf medley, which gets drowned in Gallic applause halfway through, presumably due to a pronunciation gaffe on Jeffs part, and Laughing Len Cohens "Hallelujah".In the absence of any new tunes, all the excitement here comes in the fine detailing - for example, the luscious sitar-sounding guitars throughout "Dream Brother", the sudden burst of the Cocteau Twins "Ivo" nine minutes into "The Way Young Lovers Do" (JB was/is rumoured to be embroiled with the Cocteaus Liz Fraser), the angelic chorus choir (taped, presumably) on "Hallelujah" and the rather clumsy new lyrics tacked on to the end of same ("I used to live with Leonard before I knew ya" - sheesh!). As a document of the live JB experience for those of us yet to experience the real thing it trounces the rather fragile-sounding "Live At Sin-E", and for that reason is essential for some of us - Electrical process says the label, quite correctly - but nowhere near as essential as a new album proper would be.
JEFF BUCKLEY Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk (Columbia)
JEFF BUCKLEY Everybody Here Wants You (Columbia)
Barely a year after his tragic, premature and senseless death in the Mississippi, the posthumous Jeff Buckley industry grinds into being (with a little more haste, it has to be said, than it took the posthumous Buckley Sr industry to get going). "Sketches..." is a triple album of demos for the follow up to his still-stunning "Grace" debut, working title "My Sweetheart, The Drunk", which he was working on at the time of his death. Included are thirteen tracks with full band, recorded with Television guitarist Tom Verlaine on production duties (and allegedly rejected by Jeff: controversy rages as to whether these songs should ever have seen the light of day), seven crude 4-track demos taped by Buckley alone, and what must be one of his earliest recordings, a version of "Satisfied Mind" performed on the WFMU radio programme "The Music Faucet".
There are extensive sleevenotes charting the genesis of the music released here, as well as a "Message to the Fans" from his mother, Mary Guibert, who was responsible for this album, that attempts to appease those who would rather this material remained in the vaults. Tantalisingly, there are also suggestions that albums of b-sides, outtakes and early material may surface at some point in the distant future.
In the meantime, "Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk" is as close as were ever going to get to a second Jeff Buckley album, and even then only one of these 21 tracks is in anything approaching a finished form. That doesnt prevent "Sketches..." being, in places and predominately in the Tom Verlaine material, stunning. The best track is undoubtedly "Everybody Here Wants You", a slinky, soulful and understated number that sounds like it couldve fallen off the second side of Stevie Wonders "Talking Book". Other highlights include opener "The Sky Is A Landfill" and the two versions of the ominously prescient "Nightmare By The Sea", which may well be destined to become Jeffs "Fruit Tree" ("Stay with me under these waves, tonight/Be free for once in your life tonight").
For demos these band tracks are highly accomplished, but what youll notice that, especially compared to "Grace", theyre a little lacking in tonal colouring, being just guitars/bass/drums, and with almost none of Jeffs vocal acrobatics on top. How much of this is due to Tom Verlaines production its hard to say, but certainly Televisions albums majored on order and regimentation, almost like music produced by the application of mathematical theories, a style that may have cramped Buckleys trademark sonic freefalling.
Of the 4-track recordings, well, theyre nice to have, but some of them are a bit wretched, particularly the horrible prog/glam mutation "Murder Suicide Meteor Slave", and the cover of Genesis "Back In N.Y.C." is a nice idea that, in this pre-pre-production form, doesnt really come off.
So "Sketches..." might be something of a mixed bag of curios, and in no sense could it or should it be considered a bona fide follow-up to "Grace", but it contains a rich vein of fine music that deserves to be heard by the faithful, and ample further evidence of the tragic waste of talent that seems to have cursed that family. But draw some small comfort by the last words on this album: "One things for certain, when it comes my time/Ill leave this old world with a satisfied mind". We can only hope it happened like that.
Not only is "Everybody Here Wants You" the finest five minutes on "Sketches...", its also "The last Jeff Buckley single", if you believe the adverts. Hmmm. Available in The Mans usual pointless multiplicity of formats (and not on vinyl, of course), you can buy as one CD backed with "Lover, You Shouldve Come Over (Live And Acoustic In Japan)" and "Tongue", both of which were on 1995s "Last Goodbye" 10" single, or you can do the decent thing as I did and buy the other CD, which gets you an otherwise unavailable 4-track demo ("Thousand Fold"), a road version (i.e. pointless sub-Pearl Jam grunge blustering) of "Eternal Life" and "Hallelujah" from the French import "Live At The Bataclan" album.JEFF BUCKLEY Mystery White Boy (Columbia)
So short a career, but whilst the late Jeff Buckley burned he did so brilliantly. The bulk of the continued adoration his memory receives is based on the greatness of his sole fully realised studio album, 1994's close-to-immaculate "Grace". There's a wealth of peripheral material available, to which this live compilation is a welcome addition, but the reason some people still crave every last barrel scraping and archive clearing is the glory of the seven original songs and three cover versions (which skidded between Leonard Cohen, Benjamin Britten and Elkie Brooks with scant regard for fad or fashion) that made the mystery white boy's name (and made it more than his father's ever was, in itself an astounding achievement).
"Mystery White Boy" collects together a dozen recordings from the 1995/6 tour of the same name, captured in such diverse locations as Hamburg, Melbourne, Paris and San Francisco. All are as rendered direct to the soundboard DAT machine on the night, these two-track tapes permitting no post-gig sweetening. This is the real deal, and thankfully a more extended outing than the two existing mini-albums "Live At Sin-E", which captures his early New York café days, and "Live From The Bataclan", a French import that partly documents another date on the Mystery White Boy tour. Seven of the songs represented are drawn from "Grace", the remainder being previously unreleased compositions ("I Woke Up In A Strange Place", "What Will You Say", "Moodswing Whiskey") or covers (Gershwin's "The Man That Got Away and, wonder of wonders, Big Star's "Kanga Roo").
Mouth-watering as the specifics above might sound, "Mystery White Boy" is a surprisingly drab experience. It just floats by for 80 minutes or so, without drawing the listener (or this listener) into the deep, dark well of Buckley's immense talent. That elastic soul voice still swoops, ducks and dives as gracefully (pun unintended) as ever it did, the songs remain some of the most astonishing ever committed to tape and his regular band operate on ESP throughout, but maybe over-familiarity has rendered these recordings less impressive than they could, or should, have been. (I had five versions of "Eternal Life", at the last count.) The three new compositions do little to leaven proceedings either, being substantially half-written charm-free 4/4 plodders that allow scant opportunity for either bard or band to take flight.
For me, this album is a well-intentioned failure, and I type that as someone who greedily hoards every last JB b-side I can get my hands on. It may sate the devoted, for a while, but it adds nothing to the legend, which is a genuine shame.JEFF BUCKLEY Live In Chicago (SMV)
The world has not been starved of Jeff Buckley material. Since his tragic and untimely death in the swell of the Mississippi, we have been treated to a double album of soundboard recordings from his "Mystery White Boy" world tour and a triple, "Sketches (For My Sweetheart The Drunk)", filled with the music he was working on at the time of his death. In addition, two live mini-albums, "Live At Sin-E" and "Live From The Bataclan", were released during his lifetime, all of which explains, extends and supports the JB legend that sprung from his solitary studio work, the still-stupendous "Grace".
"Live In Chicago" promises to be something different. The first JB material to be enshrined on DVD, it's also the first Buckley gig to be officially released in its entirety. Taped on May 13, 1995 at the city's Cabaret Metro, production values could not be accurately described as lavish - five cameras were used, but most of them seemed to be pointing in the same direction - but they're serviceable enough. As with the recent "Mystery White Boy" album, however, the undoubted energy and proficiency displayed on the night itself seems to have been sapped by the (over)-familiarity of these songs, as most of the "Grace" album gets trundled out before a rightly-approving crowd yet again. So what delight is to be found is usually obtained from the incidentals, for example the three minute wordless introductory vocal part that "Dream Brother" has grown on this outing, an enjoyably raucous thrash through the MC5's "Kick Out The Jams" (which ends with Soul Coughing's guitar tech, Angry Dave, stagediving into the crowd) and an instrumental version of "Vancouver", later to surface posthumously with lyrics on "Sketches (For My Sweetheart The Drunk)".
Why should you buy the DVD instead of the cheaper VHS version? Aside from the theoretically improved sound and picture quality and obligatory instant access to each song, there are two bonus live-in-the-studio acoustic songs ("So Real" and "Last Goodbye"), a sparse discography, something that calls itself an electronic press kit (fifteen minutes of pretentious, sepia-shot PR puff from the mouth of the boy wonder, which suddenly becomes almost unbearably poignant with his closing desire "just to be in the world") and a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack for anyone fortunate enough to make use of it. But the real reason you should buy this, on whatever format, is that its the closest you'll ever get to having a Jeff Buckley gig in your lounge, and, for all my reservations, that's enough to be eternally grateful to everybody involved.JEFF BUCKLEY Live A L'Olympia Bruno Coquatrix (Columbia)
What a treat this album is. "Live A L'Olympia Bruno Coquatrix" (I have no idea what the Bruno Coquatrix postfix means, but it tags below the album title whenever it appears on the packaging and disc, so it's along for the ride here as well) is a Dutch import CD featuring music from a concert, recorded in Paris on July 6, 1995, from a series of shows that the late, great Buckley himself regarded as the pinnacle of his performing career. And although the world has never exactly been starved of live JB material - we have the "Live At Sin-É" mini-album documenting his NYC dark café days, and the "Live From The Bataclan", "Mystery White Boy" and "Live In Chicago" bulletins from the relentless, grinding touring schedule that accompanied his sole studio release, the still-astonishing "Grace" - even a cursory listen will alert the aficionado to the fact that this latest article is something very special indeed.
It takes seconds. It's in the opening sturm and drang of the oft-performed but rarely recorded "Lover, You Should Have Come Over", the way the band modulate the song from near silence to waves of crashing crescendo, then bring it back down for the close. It's in Buckley's edge of desperation, tangled-up-in-blue vocal cords. It's even in the mere fact that the packaging includes the lyrics to the song for the first time. That's it. And for the next hour you're kicking your legs in the air like a contented cat, even through renditions of the over-familiar "Dream Brother" (enlivened by "Creep"-style guitar throat-clearings before the chorus) and "Eternal Life".
What else is here that adds to the legend? "Kick Out The Jams" makes its debut appearance on a Buckley album, here prefaced by a rip-roaring James Brown-style introduction. There's an amusing impression of what "Kashmir" sounds like at 45 rpm, and another new cover, the wonderful "That's All I Ask", written by one H Ott, which, surprisingly, appears sourced from the same Nina Simone album as Buckley's beloved "Lilac Wine". And throughout there's the happy banter with the audience, crowd and artist engaged in a mutual feeding frenzy of affection and appreciation, culminating in Buckley's choked recognition of the moment when the multitudes raise their cigarette lighters during "Hallelujah", apparently for the first time.
And what isn't here that doesn't subtract? The encore performance of Big Star's "Kangaroo" has, perhaps judiciously, been excised: its one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite bands, and Buckley is one of my favourite performers, but his renditions are reputed to spiral off into improvised inconsequence, presenting the listener with a gruelling endurance test. And the booklet notes commiserate that the source recording was "an analog audio cassette which was found among Jeff's personal possessions. Our goal was to eliminate as much of the tape hiss and other sonic flaws as possible without processing away the natural sonic quality of the live performances ." But in truth the sound quality is perfectly acceptable, albeit a few dBs quieter than most modern CDs.
As a bonus the package is rounded out with a duet recorded with Azerbaijani singer Alim Qazimov at the Festival of Sacred Music in Saint-Florent-le-Veil a few weeks after the main feature, copious booklet notes, photographs and lyrics and even, if you can be bothered, "a secret code to access live footage on the internet". But it's the music you're here for, isn't it? Well, alongside "Grace", this is as good as Jeffy O'Buckle's music had time and space to get during his short stay on earth, which makes it a cherishable release.
DAVID BROWNE Dream Brother The Lives And Music Of Jeff And Tim Buckley