- Live At Sin-é reviewed by Paul Evans
Solely for its moaning, keening, scatting
10-minute take on Van Morrison's classic The Way Young Lovers Do, Jeff
Buckley's EP could be judged a rich debut, but its other songs are equally
gripping. There are only four tunes, only a singer and his guitar, yet for depth
and daring, this is music vast in suggestiveness. Buckley's other cover is Edith
Piaf's Je N'en Connais Pas la Fin, and what's startling is how, in French
and English, he takes the tortured cabaret diva's melancholy straight, with no
chaser of camp or reverence. Thematically complex and sharply imagistic ("A
burning red horizon screams our names"), Buckley's originals, Mojo Pin
(written with ex-Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas) and Eternal Life are
unified by yearning and an honest passion that refuses to inhibit intelligence.
The singer's father, Tim Buckley, one of the most poetic voices of the 60's, is
long overdue for a revival; in their own highly distinctive way, these songs
honor and extend his spirit.
Live At Sin-é reviewed by Jim Farber
Jeff Buckley does a lot with precious little.
Armed with just a guitar and his supple voice, Buckley flutters and rages
through four ambitious tracks on this debut EP (cut live at the Irish club
Sin-é, in New York's East Village). From covers of Edith Piaf and Van Morrison
to originals, Buckley finds an improbable connecting point between French folk,
jazz scat, and the high-flown style of Led Zep's Robert Plant. An acquired
taste, but no doubt an original talent.
- Live At Sin-é reviewed by Matt Smith
FOLKIES -- Arran sweaters, sandals, and a face that would
disgrace even Captain Birds Eye after a night on the lager. Jeff Buckley --
young and electric with the kind of fanny-moistening good looks only a Hollywood
surgeon could chisel. And he can write a good tune too. Nirvana!
highlight of Buckley's two recent London shows was to watch someone actually
working for their wage -- going for notes which, by rights, they had only an
even chance of hitting, yet, in the process, creating an atmosphere which left
everybody in the room stunned into silence.
This four-track mini-LP (fat
bastid of a single?) retains the edge and abandon that characterized those shows
yet, because it was recorded in a tiny bar in Greenwich Village, loses none of
the intimacy that makes JB so special live. Take the lovelorn Mojo Pin,
with its dreamily insistent guitar motif that sounds like it's been beamed in
from the edge of sleep or Eternal Life which starts off like the most
depressed Hendrix reflection then turns inward into a drama-filled confrontation
with its own mortality.
Buckley's version of Van Morrison's The Way Young
Lovers Do is a fine example of what I was on about earlier, his cavalier
approach to creating time-stopping, wondrous moments.
He actually picks out
the individual instruments from the thick mesh of the Astral Weeks
big-band arrangement and wails, hollers, cries and croons their parts. Somehow,
none of the churning urgency of the original is lost. It could so easily be a
grand folly but isn't, simply because of his sheer brass-neck, his intuitive
knowledge of what made the song so brilliant in the first place and the small
fact that he could sing the wallet out of Pavarotti's back pocket.
blank looks trying to order a vodka in Paris, but I think Je N'en Connais Pas
La Fin is one of those heart-destroying paeans to lost youth that only the
frogs -- Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel (I know he's Belgian) knock out so
Jeff Buckley has created one of the albums of the year with just a
Telecaster and a voice that sounds like a choirboy singing from the rafters of a
whorehouse. Buy it and melt.
Review - Live At Sin-é reviewed by Parke
Recording rating: Good
Here's a prime example of
someone who's singing solely because the spirit moves him. This is not the kind
of music that makes bank accounts fatter; it's an artistry that's indulged
(occasionally) by record companies and devoured by a faithful few who have
fallen under its spell. So it was with the late Tim Buckley; so it will be with
Jeff Buckley (his son). Jeff's main instrument is his voice, which swoops,
soars, pounces cat-like, feints, and dodges, extending syllables into a wordless
wilderness of pure expression. He seems a little earthier than his father, with
a touch more blues to compliment his extemporaneous jazz-folk wanderings.
Imagine a cross between dad and Robert Plant -- it's not as improbable as it
sounds. Buckley accompanies himself on minimalist electric guitar, punctuating
his soliloquies with jagged chords and flinty rhythms as he scats himself into
trances. Two songs on this debut EP are originals (Mojo Pin and
Eternal Life), and two are covers, including a 10-minute take-off on Van
Morrison's The Way Young Lovers Do. Buckley demonstrates considerable
conviction and bristling originality in this captivating raw live set. A
full-length album is forthcoming. Stay tuned.
MusicCritic.ca Review - Live At Sin-é reviewed by James Laczkowski
September 19, 2003
Recording rating: 10
When I first heard Jeff Buckley, I was so taken aback by him; I almost dismissed him out of sheer mystification. In other words, I never heard anything like it to the extent that I could barely comprehend what I was listening to. A lot of people are put off by things they don’t understand right away, and often they will either ignore it or fear it. Jeff Buckley, at least the first time I heard his collection of demos, fell on deaf ears for me. I had read a review in Rolling Stone for Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk, and I was intrigued. I picked it up, and didn’t think much of it. It was good in spots, but nothing really hit me. It was a schizophrenic record of rough tracks that sounded unfinished, which they were. But about a year later, I came across Grace.
Listening to Grace, I was overcome with emotion that I never had before while listening to rock and roll. But it was everything that I loved about every kind of music rolled up into one record. It was jazz, blues, soul, and even metal from a whole new perception with a voice that was all over the map, emulating Nina Simone crossed with a screaming Van Morrison. So a year later after my first introduction to Buckley, he had gradually seduced me with his extravagant rock oeuvre, Grace, that is as good or better than anything The Beatles put out in their entire career. It is a life-altering and life-affirming piece of art that will move a music devotee in ways they never knew possible. I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to cry their eyes out at least a dozen times while listening to it.
The new Live At Sin-E deluxe edition is a 2-disc live set which is described as a “Love note to Sin-E.” Putting it out is essentially a love note to the die-hard fans of Jeff Buckley. So allow me to preface this: this is not the record to start with if you have not heard Jeff and have no indication about the essence of his sound. By all means, start with Grace, and go from there. That’s the smart route to take. But for a person like me who has idolized, admired, and adored Jeff in every facet of his songwriting and the way he would sing his favorite songs to make them his own, Live At Sin-E is the best recording that captures what made him such an indelible, imaginative musician unlike any other of his time and it only gets better as the set unfolds.
Music for Jeff Buckley wasn’t a hobby; it was a way of life. He didn’t write songs for commercial appeal. Instead, he sang with an immediate emotional context. He was doing it to purge, purify, and release his demons, as well as express to others his intense passion for life and love, all while maintaining genuine honesty. There was no pretense, only the sound. He was always safe in sound, and confident enough to do anything including a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan cover. When you listen to Live At Sin-E you feel as if you have a direct link to the soul of one emotionally conflicted, yet sanguine person. Jeff sounds like his vocal chords were bleeding, and at the same time, healing his wounds with his words.
Previously Live At Sin-E was only 4 tracks, featured on the new edition. Re-released with thirty new tracks which include in-between song banter and some of the greatest covers ever captured on DAT, Live At Sin-E never fails to leave the listener in awe. Sure, there are some overindulgent moments that would otherwise seem tedious if it wasn’t coming from Buckley’s tenor such as the Nusrat cover or even turning my two favorite Van Morrison tracks (“The Way Young Lovers Do” and “Sweet Thing”) into ten-minute compositions that range from quiet whispers to fiery crescendo. The warm, inviting Telecaster accompanied with a voice that NEVER goes out of tune, the highlights are hearing early versions of material that would later appear on Grace. The stripped down resonance of “Eternal Life” is an outstanding document of Buckley’s objective in the world of rock and roll. Buckley is best at his most emotionally naked, sans the standard bass and drum backup. Although his other live-disc Mystery White Boy is almost as equally impressive, there is just something about listening to Jeff in his early stages all alone in a coffeehouse that immediately connects with the listener. You are transported back to a moment in time that makes you completely envious of the folks who sat there while he quietly sang a rendition of “If You See Her, Say Hello” by Dylan. Even better is hearing an early take of “Lover You Should’ve Come Over” with some of the best lyrics ever written. “My kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder/ it's never over, all my riches for her smiles when I slept so soft against her.” It doesn’t get more passionate or corporeal than that. And he meant every word of it.
Lester Bangs once said “The only questions worth asking today are whether humans are going to have any emotions tomorrow, and what the quality of life will be if the answer is no.” Jeff Buckley replies to that first question with a wink, a smile, and through the reverberating sound of his cataclysmic voice and heartwarming guitar, he answered with his own version of “yes.” Maybe Jeff expressed his emotions a little too freely, making him openly vulnerable, but maybe he lived for that rush you can only get on stage. He may have been addicted to playing out, clearly displayed in making his cover songs overlong, but he remained consistently compelling. Buckley was the opposite of contrived, he was one hundred percent natural and unaffected, and those who identify with him still worship his contributions to the music world and will continue to do so. It’s clear that he had an honest affinity for his audience, unlike bands who clearly show contempt and are just there for the big bucks. He would scream in the microphone with a howl and then snap back with the vocal equivalent of a silent cry. Live At Sin-E, the new edition, warts and all, showcases great dynamics and a heartfelt manner of self-expression that nobody can duplicate.
Jeff had a range like no other and wrote lyrics that for once are comparable to the best poets we absorbed in literature. So yes, I am biased being one of the biggest Jeff Buckley fans in the world. But years from now, if not already, he should be regarded as simply one of the greatest musicians that ever lived, and it’s a damn shame we couldn’t hear what direction he might have taken. There is Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Janis Joplin, Robert Plant, Billie Holiday, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Ella Fitzgerald, Leonard Cohen, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and of course, Mr. Jeff Buckley. Even though some of these people have left this plane of existence, they have left gifts, and love notes behind that could never truly die.
Thanks Jeff, for everything.
Grace reviewed by Jim Bessman
NEW YORK -- Backed by a buzz built during two years of solo
performances at Manhattan's hip East Village club Cafe Sin-é -- plus curiosity
arising from his surname -- Jeff Buckley may well confound expectations with his
debut album, Grace.
The Columbia Records album, to be released Aug. 23, is a
full-fledged, dreamily textured band album, even including strings conducted by
classical/jazz composer/conductor/musician Karl Berger. This belies Live at
Sin-é, the four-song CD-5 recorded solo at Sin-é last August and released last
"We didn't have a preconceived notion of what album we should make"
says Steve Berkowitz, Columbia's senior director of A&R/marketing, speaking
of Grace. "He's not the next 'X' or 'Y' or superstar or folkie or jazz musician
-- just Jeff Buckley, who does exactly what he does. It's just a matter of when
to stop the process to make a record".
Live at Sin-é, then, was solely meant
to document the numerous Monday night gigs that established Buckley among New
York's music cognoscente and A&R community, including Berkowitz, who signed
Buckley in winter 1992 and co-produced Live at Sin-é with him.
"When I first
saw Jeff, I heard this incredible array of various influences from jazz to blues
to R&B to rock to renaissance music -- without copying anything" says
Berkowitz. "He could go from Dylan to Piaf to Robert Johnson to Sly Stone to
[late English composer] Benjamin Britten -- the influences were absolutely
recognizable and completely diverse, but everything he did he made his
The 27-year-old son of the late singer/songwriter Tim Buckley, Jeff
Buckley barely knew his father and discounts any paternal influence. After
moving to New York, the Southern Californian commenced his regular Sin-é shows
in spring 1992.
"It was so easy to get Monday nights there, and I've always
been into filling in for people who couldn't make it", says Buckley, who has
also played the area's numerous other singer/ songwriter spots. "But I always
wanted to do [a band album] somewhere down the line".
Buckley began recording
Grace at Bearsville Recording Studio in Woodstock, N.Y., last September with
bassist Mick Grondahl and drummer Matt Johnson, the three coming together four
According to Berkowitz, Andy Wallace, engineer or producer of
such acts as Nirvana and Soul Asylum, was chosen to produce the album, because
of his musicality and his relative lack of "name" identity.
"The idea was for
the music to tell us exactly what should be done", Berkowitz reiterates. "It's
very unusual to start a record with an artist and not know pretty much what
would happen. The band had just recently met and were fresh and great
improvisers, and the music kept growing. After 2 1/2 weeks of playing 14 hours a
day, the record was done -- but they started playing together differently, and
Jeff would do another song and then another and it started becoming a different
record. It was clear that the session shouldn't end because it was such a rare
occasion where a band was gelling...and real creation was happening".
promotion of Grace will stay true to the spirit of production, notes Berkowitz.
"The [marketing plans] will evolve naturally, the same way as the music
Berkowitz says that there is currently no single or focus track picked
from Grace, and that Columbia may wait a month or two before actively seeking
To introduce radio and retail to Buckley, Columbia has serviced
outlets with a promo CD, titled Peyote Radio Theater, that includes Mojo
Pin (the opening track from Grace), a 14-minute cover of Big Star's
Kangaroo, and an instrumental mix of the album track Dream
Berkowitz stresses that the label is not going for radio adds
with the CD; its goal is merely to expose college radio and alternative rock
press and retail to Buckley and to tie with his summer tour of the same
Both Berkowitz and Buckley agree that touring is key for the artist. He
has already toured four months this year and will stay out on the road through
mid-August in the U.S. before heading to Europe.
Melody Maker -
Grace reviewed by Taylor Parkes
BECAUSE, after a series of desperate but sadly unsuccessful
attempts, he finally realized that it wasn't actually possible to carve lyric
poetry into the night sky with a 300-foot flame-thrower, Jeff Buckley became a
Grace puts me in mind of what all those bands formed by young
Hollywood stars might have sounded like if Hollywood was still H O L L Y W O O
D, and the square-jawed buggers could boast a single grain of stardust between
them -- partly due to Jeff's movie-star looks, cool-Californian stage persona,
and his habit of talking wonderfully incoherent Utopian stoner babble, but
mainly because near enough all these songs are awash with the drama and mystique
they first built 25-foot screens for.
In Mojo Pin, a choked,
meandering vocal weaves through ornate ripples of open-tuned guitar; the title
track boasts a chord sequence to cartwheel to. Elsewhere he adds a wonderful
feel of doomed, youthful romanticism to covers of Leonard Cohen's
Hallelujah, the Corpus Christi Carol and, rather more bizarrely,
Lilac Wine by perennial Two Ronnies guest Elkie Brooks.
Real is a song of surrender to the raised-vein thunder of The Moment (being,
in this case, a night when Jeff and some pretty chum "walked around til the moon
grew full like a plate, and the wind blew an invocation"). He never stepped on
the cracks because he thought it would hurt his mother. "I love you", whispers
Jeff. "And I'm afraid to love you". My Bloody Valentine once conveyed that
sudden, shocking self-realization with a mesh of bleeding noise; Buckley uses
his voice, drawn out like a slow-stretched bolus of heavenly bubblegum
It's a voice that leaps tall buildings in a single bound,
smells of sex and Chanel and never stoops to showboating. Dull people would
remark "He could sing his shopping list and it would sound fantastic", (Like
YOU'D never slip it in a review, right? -- Ed) which, luckily, legitimizes his
more embarrassing stabs at lyrical flash. Indeed, when Jeff sings about girls
with green eyes and "butterscotch hair", you don't just picture them, you fancy
them rotten (but that's the thing about the Nineties, don't you think? The most
alluring quality one can possess is to be fictional). Anyway, Grace is a
massive, gorgeous record, a record that floats all talk of famous dads out onto
the lake on a makeshift raft and leaves it there, and starts where every other
singer-songwriter in town says, "Whoa!, pulls up his horse and backs
Because the point at which others are struck dumb with rapture is the
moment Jeff Buckley finds his voice, and starts singing.
September 5 1994
With his rugged good looks and
achingly tender voice, Buckley may be the best example of genetic inheritance
since Mendel played with his peas: The 27-year-old looks and sounds like his
late father, Tim Buckley, the charismatic '60s and '70s troubadour who perished
from a drug overdose at 28 in 1975.
The younger Buckley adds luster to the
family name. Like his father, he sometimes goes over the top with his swooping
vocals, but what seemed too eccentric in the 70's sounds truly exciting a
generation later. Buckley -- who plays guitar, keyboards and dulcimer -- wrings
every intimate emotion out of his original songs. The pensive lyrics range from
one number called Eternal Life to a few about fleeting love. ("She's the
tear that hangs inside my soul forever", he sings in Lover, You Should've
Come Over.) He also delivers an intoxicating cover of the sexual-awakening
classic Lilac Wine.
Even the album's first eight hummed notes (in the
song Mojo Pin) set a rare mood. They seemed to shoot skyward from the
depth of Buckley's being, then float down again like a feather on a gentle wind.
His father would be proud.
Grace reviewed by Bruce Charlap
Record of the month
If you only know Jeff Buckley from his
photos, it would be easy to dismiss him as just another pretty face. If you only
know him from his debut, Live at Sin-é, it would be easy to typecast him as the
latest postmodern folk flavor. But Grace, Buckley's first album backed by a
band, reveals much more -- a lyrical dreamscape featuring his unique vocals
painted on a musical backdrop ranging from brooding minimalism to electric
chaos. Pop radio probably won't embrace him, but we're sure you have an idea or
two on that subject.
Rolling Stone -
Grace reviewed by Stephanie Zacharek
Jeff Buckley sounds like a man who doesn't yet know what he
wants to be, and his uncertainty is the very thing that holds Grace, his debut
album together. It's a ballsy kind of uncertainty, the kind you find in star
high-school athletes who seem to have all the confidence in the world even as
they're straining to meet their own ever-increasing expectations. Buckley, with
the help of his tent backing band, ends up pulling off some things no other
young singer-songwriter-guitarist in his right mind would even try: Whatever
possessed him to record the bleak, beautiful standard Lilac Wine? And the
bigger question is how in hell does he make it work?
Buckley's got huge ears
and an even bigger record collection: He jumbles jazz, R&B, blues and rock
references with such apparent nonchalance that he can seem like a showoff. His
songs are anything but tossed of, and sometimes his meticulous arrangements
sound too orchestrated, too ornate. But it may just be that movement and texture
mean so much to Buckley that he sometimes gets carried away. There are worse
Buckley's curvy, intuitive vocals tell the main story: His inflections
flicker with shadows of Billie Holiday and Chet Baker. Other influences are at
work, too. Anxious to make his own mark, Buckley doesn't like to speak much
about his father, the late singer/songwriter Tim Buckley. But genes tell a
story: The elder Buckley's 1972 treasure Greetings From L.A. shows that father
and son share a fondness for jazzy phrasing and wraithlike falsetto
The young Buckley's vocals don't always stand up: He doesn't sound
battered or desperate enough to carry off Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. But
his ghostly Lilac Wine, with its deep blush of a sound, practically adds
years to his age. His voice seems weighted down with tears that just won't come
out the normal way. "I made wine from the lilac tree, put my heart in its
recipe", he sings, and his heart's in this recipe, too. Like any singer worth
his salt, he knows that "Lilac Wine" just never comes out right without
- Grace reviewed by Parke Puterbaugh
Performance rating: Otherwordly
"Sometimes a man gets carried away", Jeff Buckley sings in
Lover, You Should've Come Over, and though taken out of context, that
line could apply to Buckley himself on his full-length debut. Singing like a man
suspended between heaven and earth, yearning for transcendence while shackled to
the physical world, he displays a remarkable gift for expressing the
inexpressible. In this sense he is recognizably the son of his father, the late
Tim Buckley. But Jeff is entirely a self-made artist, without any guidance from
Buckley pere, whom he barely knew. Indeed, he carries his restless creativity
into areas as extreme as any that Tim Buckley explored -- and far earlier in his
career, to boot. His songs are occasionally unwieldy (Corpus Christi
Carol, Lilac Wine) but more often brilliant in their evocation of
mystery, ecstasy, and the Sisyphus-like frustration of a soul determined to push
over the hill to the next horizon.
Mojo Pin, reprised from last year's
live four-song EP teaser, remains Buckley's crowning achievement, and it's
rendered even more dynamic here with the addition of a rhythm section. Close on
its heels is the title track, another thorny, twisted vine of a performance that
finds the artist trying to rise above earthbound agonies to catch a glimpse of
the light. Playing broken chords and singing distempered melodies that resolve
into recognizable handholds of songcraft, Buckley avails himself of an almost
operatic chiaroscuro of light and shadow. The adventure reaches a feverish peak
in the adrenaline outpouring of Eternal Life, in which he shouts and
slashes with a reckless energy and grungy dissonance worthy of Seattle's finest.
Yet his goal is beyond that scene, and Grace must be heard to be
believed. Watching Buckley develop from this audacious starting point will be a
pleasure, as the sky's the limit for a talent of his magnitude.
JEFF Buckley's Israeli distributor NMC didn't expect that his
eerie, high-pitched and emotion-drenched voice would make a splash in the land
that brought you the Uzi submachine gun.
Grace, his first full-length album,
was released here with no public-relations fanfare. In fact it is only being
reviewed here in response to a request-cum-complaint from a local "Anglo-Saxi"
who noticed that Buckley, a graduate of New York's underground cafe scene, is
causing comment in the US.
"Sensitivity isn't about being wimpy", explains
the songwriter, guitarist and vocalist. "It's about being so painfully aware
that a flea landing on a dog is like a sonic boom".
Grace sounds like an
album by a young man who, as a kid, frequently had his lunch money stolen. He is
fighting back here, spitting in the eye of macho posturing. His voice is as
naked as an exposed nerve as he wails about missing a woman then wonders about
the death that would make such separation permanent. Though his deep thinking is
sometimes a bit much, overall he succeeds in his musical aim to get at "what's
really going on underneath ... not what people pretend to be or what they hope
they can buy at the store".
Working for the most part with just a bass player
and a drummer, Buckley, who also plays harmonium, organ and dulcimer, has come
up with a swelling, intelligent and often extremely beautiful weave of sound.
But it's probably the vocals that make or break your response. These have a
hysterical edge that's devoid of the kind of gay-boy glamor that usually
gift-wraps the serenades of male singers who dare be this
Personally, I felt pretty wary of him until the album's fourth
cut, Lilac Wine, in which Buckley's vocal steps forward and simply takes
charge. It's quite impressive hearing a man stand up for his right to be a
romantic. It's like that moment when the schoolyard victim finally gives the
bullies a bloody nose.
"I never stepped on the cracks/'Cause I thought it
would hurt my mother", he sings on So Real. "Couldn't awake from the
nightmare/It sucked me in and pulled me under". Distorted guitars clang and
clash leading up to the whispered confession "I love you ... but I'm afraid to
The man's got courage. He practically climbs into bed with the
listener, but without the slick bravado of the usual pop sex songs. He truly is
Other highlights of the album are Leonard Cohen's masterpiece
Hallelujah which Buckley manages to make his own, and an
Elizabethan-sounding Corpus Christi Carol. This is not always a
comfortable album to listen to, but if you give it a chance, you may find
Buckley's willingness to share his exploration of his own somewhat hysterical
side to be truly rewarding.
Grace is the story of a "graceful" man
fighting for his self respect. It's too bad that so few people here have heard
of it, for surely there are plenty who can relate to that struggle. Who knows,
perhaps local countertenor David D'Or who has, until recently, been a little
stuck singing pretty songs about angels, will do some similar grappling.
New York Newsday -
Grace reviewed by Charles Aaron
of African-American art forms have typically fallen into three categories:
mocking, patronizing or reverent; artists who transcend such choices simply leap
into the frying pan and scald themselves. Impudently inhabiting the blues or
whatever permutation (jazz, R & B, hip-hop), they, in a sense, admit they
have no real identity, that they're starting from scratch.
Michael Bolton and rising alterna-hunk Jeff Buckley - two white vocalists with
affecting voices drawn directly from black idioms - hint at this process on
their new records. Both awkwardly reach for a balance of emotion and technique,
eventually relying on sheer force of will, oversinging, flaking out. They
shamelessly appeal to their audiences - Bolton belting R & B classics for
horny working women; Buckley wailing and scatting folky blues for wounded
bohemians. And while Bolton succeeds feebly on a grand stage, and Buckley fails
grandly on a small stage, they're both after the same thing - to sing themselves
into being themselves.
Some folks still mean-spiritedly dismiss Bolton as a
minstrel mutation of Al Jolson and Fabio. But with minstrelsy - that great
American tradition in which whites diminish blacks by acting like them - there's
always an understood detachment, a common wink. Bolton never winks. When he
works over Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay (a 1988 hit for him) or Lean
on Me (from The One Thing), Bolton rarely calls up mannerisms or
nuances of other artists. In fact, he obliterates them in a disorienting barrage
of raw feeling. Bolton's songs are like Broadway mini-musicals - fantasias in
which every emotion demands a note sung to the rafters.
The One Thing
is a carefully crafted series of production numbers. As guitars and synths
smolder, Bolton opens as Mr. Pitiful, a Samson about to be shorn of his hair.
Gradually, he pulls himself together, pledging full-throated, devotional love
(The One Thing, Soul of My Soul, Completely), even bragging
a bit on Ain't Got Nothing If You Ain't Got Love, then, poof, the
affair's over (A Time for Letting Go). Remarkably, the album's two
remaining songs start the cycle all over again. By obsessing on romantic longing
as the only true emotion, Bolton makes a plea for his unvarying vocal approach -
it's "all or nothing at all". This blindered, lust-free conviction keeps him
from seeming like a gigolo, but it also undermines any claim he has to
On his four-song debut EP, Jeff Buckley, son of Tim, is more of a
cipher. Purposefully strumming and picking guitar, he's a leather-lunged Loudon
Wainwright, a slacker Robert Plant, a loopy chanson and finally, a hyper jazzbo,
using his voice to mimic his guitar's wail, a horn solo, the ghost of Van
Morrison. In fact, he does everything short of human beatboxing. And does it
passionately. But we get little sense of who Buckley really is, or what he wants
to tell us. In Eternal Life, he sings, "Racist everyman what have you
done? You've made a killer out of your own born son". Before he can make such
heated proclamations persuasive, Buckley needs to figure out which voice is
really his own.
The Big Takeover
- Grace reviewed by Rebecca Turner
Issue 37 Volume XVI
His singing is a history of pop, his voice vibrating wildly like
Jackie Wilson played backwards. The music is worthy of the late '60s, early '70s
in scope and rebelliousness. (Check out his famous dad's Goodbye and Hello.) The
string sections invoke the '70s big-time. The words aren't always up to the
grandiosity of the music or its production; plus the best tracks are the ones he
co-wrote and performs with Gary Lucas, or those he didn't write, which leads me
to believe he needs to grow up some more before he can be thoroughly amazing.
The psyche of an
artist/performer can be a delicate thing during the act of conveyance. For some,
the audience response is everything; for others, the act is all they can
physically and emotionally give, and damn the response. For Jeff Buckley, the
moments are frozen in a balance between the extremes. The magic is the moment,
and it can't be recaptured on film or on tape. Maybe under hypnosis...
Buckley has been saturating himself and an audience in the coffeehouse/small
club scene in New York for more than a year. To listen to his Columbia solo
recording, Live At Sin-é is a dizzying experience; he sings his soul in
multi-octaves and creates a tension, longing and love that resolve into a vivid
snapshot of a performer who loves the song and loves to sing it.
artists as diverse as Edith Piaf, Led Zeppelin, and Leonard Cohen. His own songs
conjure the spirits of the Mississippi Delta, Eastern Europe, Joni Mitchell, and
his own late father, Tim Buckley. To hear him tell it, the best place to summon
the spirits is in a small and intimate room where a group of people can absorb
and deflect distraction. What environment produces the best performance? "In the
most crazy, good crazy, conditions, where everybody's transported, if I'm having
a good show; smaller places, where there's no escape".
Jeff doesn't feel
uncomfortable with the intimacy or style of his particular means of expression;
he seems to feel that it is absolutely necessary to disrobe one's self to
produce a truly honest moment, drawing out a secret emotion in the audience. Few
living artists do so with the prowess of Jeff Buckley. Was this a natural
tendency for him, or was there an active commitment to a possibly painful
passionate expression? "I did make a conscious decision to try to allow for a
certain quality to come up, and to work hard at it".
His songs are very
personal statements, wrapped in dreamy images and wide-ranging melody. Where
does the song originate? "It comes around in a lot of ways. Sometimes in dreams.
Walking down the street, with your mind dancing, music comes. Usually it's with
six cups of coffee and a 24 hour diner with some crappy food and my diary. I'm
always writing things down. Little tidbits that have heat to them. And some that
don't. Some of the things are totally journalistic, and flow into poetry, and go
I am always intrigued by an artist's exposure to music at an
early age. What was there for Jeff Buckley? "I was always listening to stuff
that seemed older. Like Joni Mitchell was really kind of literate in comparison
to Deep Purple. It captured me. It was emotionally eloquent in what it said, it
was perfect, and other-worldly, and sexy. There's a very baseball-card mentality
when it comes to music sometimes. I don't see that. All I see is soul. It's not
a moveable feast. It's just there. Hank Williams, that's soul. Something that's
so penetrating, you can't just get it out of you. And you don't want
Buckley promises to be true to the idea of exposing himself through his
music, in spontaneity and feel. Check out Live At Sin-é (pronounce like Ms.
O'Connor without the "d") and hear what he's about. A full band album is due in
"It's not about getting the licks right. I learned about delivery, I
learned about feel. There's amazing poetry in there, and it's really
devastating". What Jeff Buckley learned is that it's the singer, the song, and
everything in between.
Issue number 76
All those awful
Rolling Stone adjectives are tumbling out of the woodwork for this one:
passionate, beautiful, brooding, searing, and oh yeah, almost forgot, brilliant.
Jeff Buckley, son of legendary dope-doomed troubadour Tim Buckley, has been
rumored to have channeled with his old man's tormented spirit in writing some of
the most deftly structured songs I've heard all year--songs that pay meticulous
attention to chord structure and arpeggiating details and that all provide a
broad and sympathetic canvas for his operatic flights of fervent, raw, agonized
outpouring. He does seem to buy into the whole rhetoric and mythology of the
tortured, romantic soul wholesale and, without any apparent trace of irony, he
proceeds to pour more and more of his heart out until by the end of Grace, you'd
swear there's nothing left of him to give. Very retro ideals in these decidedly
detached and ironic times, and it is possible that Buckley is either a pathetic,
overweening sap who is entirely dependent up on our indulgence to smile on
egomaniacal yodeling as impassioned art, or a cynical mountebank of the first
order making dupes of us all for believing he takes any of this shtick
seriously. Yeah, that's possible, but if you give him the benefit of the doubt,
unmitigated pleasure is yours.
Nude As The News -
Grace reviewed by Troy Carpenter
Rating: 9 out of
RiYL: R.E.M., Nick Drake, Elliot Smith, Verve, Tim Buckley
quavering voice floats in on ether trails, pulling you into a tender, glistening
world where Adonis stands alone with a microphone on a softly lit stage. Subtle
rhythms boil up via a twisting guitar and gently rolling drums. As the chorus
turns, the phasing guitar and vocals stretch toward the ceiling, creating a
misty column of pure music.
Such are the images summoned forth by Jeff
Buckley's first and only solo record, an experienced debut to say the least.
Buckley was 28 and a veteran of performance (including stints with Shinehead and
Gods and Monsters) when he recorded this 10-song opus with bassist Mick Grondahl
and drummer Matt Johnson. Building on echoes of influences as varied as the
avant jazz-rock stylings of his father, Tim Buckley, the powerful crooning of
Van Morrisson, and the classically sculpted riffs of Led Zeppelin, Buckley is as
elegant a rock star as we had in the '90s. Had he been able to endure in the
public's eye, he may have touched the lives of millions with his songcraft and
talent. As destiny would have it, he was swallowed by the Mississippi on the eve
of recording his second album, leaving Grace as his only realized work.
the album leaves a lasting impression of an artist whose exceptional talents
never got to grow to their limits. His guitar paints lustrous pictures all over
the record, and his golden vocal pipes are almost unmatched - sometimes
revealing shadows of one of his inspirations, the otherworldly voice of qawaali
deity Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
At times, he is almost too tender. Corpus
Christi Carol features only sparse instrumentation accompanying Buckley's
interpretation of the traditional hymn. Lyrics like "the falcon hath borne my
maid away" seem a little archaic in the forum of '90s rock music, but they
somehow fit right in with Buckley's oeuvre. Carol is only one of three
covers Buckley chooses to flesh out over the course of the album, including an
evocative version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, but the best tracks are
Classic pop songs Grace and Last Goodbye ride over
rolling landscapes of guitar riffage, Buckley entreating his loves with poetic
lyrics and a voice pregnant with desire. The album's centrepiece, however, is
the epic Lover, You Should've Come Over, which melts out of a stately
organ invocation, and exquisitely sets the mood of rainy day regret. A seductive
chord progression accentuates Buckley's voice as tension builds throughout the
first two verses, only to break out and head for the clouds. A Motown-style
choir of backing vocals helps propel the song toward its tumultous climax. It
sounds a little extravagant, but that's because it is. Buckley's primary concern
in creating Grace, apparently, was exploring the beauty of rock music.
Jeff Buckley met a fate eerily similar to his father's, dying
young under tragic circumstances. But unlike '70s singer-songwriter Tim Buckley,
whose stature was well confirmed before his death, son Jeff did not complete
enough work by which to fairly measure his gifts. There is that voice -- that
soaring, howling, undeniably moving instrument Jeff inherited from his dad. His
voice resonates throughout Sketches, a two-disc collection of songs and demos
Jeff was working on (under the title For My Sweetheart The Drunk), before he
drowned in Memphis lst May. Sadly, though, Sketches is accurately titled. As on
Buckley's 1994 album Grace, Sketches shows an artist equally capable of heavenly
hymns and ponderous rock, making it hard to pinpoint his musical legacy. In
Yard of Blonde Girls, Buckley all but impersonates Alice in Chains' Layne
Staley, trying to reconcile his misguided love for cock-rock with his quivery
voice and his odd sense of humor. Doubly frustrating are the demos, the crudest
of which are on disc two. Still, anyone stirred by Buckley's voice will be moved
by much of disc one, especially the sexy slow jam Everybody Here Wants
You, which awaits your next boudoir mix tape, and the a cappella You
&eamp; I, which sounds like Buckley's cry from beyond.
- Sketches reviewed by David Fricke
They run through this collection like a string
of loosely buried land mines, images and aphorisms with the prescient sting of
epitaph: "This way of life is so devised/To snuff out the mind that moves"
(The Sky Is a Landfill); "I am a railroad track abandoned" (Opened
Once); "I'm not with you/Not of you" (I Know We Could Be So Happy Baby
[If We Wanted to Be]). But Jeff Buckley's death by drowning, a year ago this
month in Memphis, was a tragic accident, and the few finished records that he
left behind -- the 1993 Live at Sin-e EP, the 1994 album Grace -- were about
finding a passage through darkness, into light. His lyrics and the convulsive
operatic dynamics of his singing were thrilling evocations of long black shadows
exploding into daybreak.
A restless, demanding spirit, Buckley had an almost
pathological aversion to pop convention; he craved both immaculate perfection
and naked revelation in his music. Which may explain Buckley's alleged
dissatisfaction with his first stab at recording what was to be his second
album, Sketches (For My Sweetheart the Drunk). There is a slight, studio-bound
formalism to the '96 and early '97 Sketches tracks, produced by Television
guitarist Tom Verlaine. Vancouver, for all of its medieval-Byrds allure,
and the old-school-Prince love letter Everybody Here Wants You fall a few
yards shy of transcendent.
But there is also explosive garage-rock theater
here -- the barking vocal rage and twisted-metal guitars in The Sky Is a
Landfill -- and breathtaking change-ups of melody and mood, like Witches'
Rave, a jolt of black-magic power pop, and Opened Once, with its
silken, suspended chords and the shivering enunciation in Buckley's voice.
You and I is just Buckley singing in free fall, but his prayers and
regrets rebound through the cathedral echo with compelling despair. If Buckley
felt the Verlaine material was not definitive work, it was only a near
Crude and inconclusive, the four-track demos on Disc Two, recorded by
Buckley alone in Memphis just before his death, reveal little about his revised
plans for that second album. Murder Suicide Meteor Slave is deafening,
nutty, out of tune - splatter-guitar painting, straight from the id. Your
Flesh Is So Nice sounds like Pavement's idea of Sparks covering Kiss. But
the flashes of inspiration are blinding: the demonic, scarred-guitar ingenuity
of Back in N.Y.C., a Genesis (!) cover; the raw fragility of Jewel
Box; the vulnerability of Buckley's voice amid the tidal guitars in I
Know We Could Be So Happy Baby [If We Wanted to Be].
Sketches ends with
an odd leap back to 1992 and a live-radio reading of Porter Wagoner's 1955
country hit Satisfied Mind. But Buckley gives a performance of sublime
purity and contentment that illuminates the heart and purpose etched deep in the
rest of Sketches. This is not the album Buckley intended for release, but it is
a record of his best intentions.
music is connected to death. You can read it in the lyrics of nearly every
songwriter, ranging from Bob Dylan to Marilyn Manson. You can hear it in tender
chords of Ray Charles and feel it in the blaring feedback of Sonic
Often, the greats try to transcend the inevitable. If you don't know
what I'm talking about, think about Pete Townshend spilling his blood in a fit
of guitar windmills, or Jerry Lee Lewis lighting his piano on fire. Not
surprisingly, these are rock's most memorable moments. It's awesome to watch a
fellow mortal biting his tongue in the face of the inevitable.
When our legends die, their passing brings us back down to size.
We remember we all have to go sometime. And when our heroes die young, we
remember death can take us at any moment. And it can take us without any
In this sense, I like to compare Jeff Buckley's innocent passing to
that of Buddy Holly. In today's world of "Behind the Music," we tend to fixate
on the overdoses and suicides while we overlook the tragedies that ended outside
the realm of the "rock and roll lifestyle".
Jeff Buckley was still a
baby-faced singer when he stepped into the Mississippi River in May of 1997 and
was taken by the water's massive current. Sadly, he had only lived long enough
to record but one complete full-length album for his fans to mourn by.
debut, the aptly named Grace, seems like a preface to a career that never
was. This is never more clear then when one takes the time to carefully admire
the range of the posthumously released Sketches for My Sweetheart The
A year after her son's death, Jeff's mother put together this set,
a collection of yet complete studio recordings and four-track demos. In a very
non-traditional sense, the album stirs a myriad of feelings: frustration, sexual
wanting, sadness, warmth and power. Buckley still croons with his Van
Morrison-like vocal improvs, set inside a Prince-like falsetto. But his musical
pallette varies from dark, angular jams to bright ballads.
Take the sexy
strut of Everybody Here Wants You, where Jeff brings Motown to the 90s,
and compare it to the Nirvana-inspired guitars of Nightmares By The Sea.
Enjoy the bouncing, wicked pop of Witches Rave and the haunting a
cappella You And I.
Get emotionally zapped by Opened Once, a
sparse acoustic ballad where the singer forshadows his own death with eery
lyrics and flowing fingerpicking. Like most of the tracks on Sketches, his voice
is haunting in its beauty and alluring in its complexity. He sounds hopeful at
one point, only to become completely lost in the next verse. At the song's close
Jeff softly asks, "Did I ever happen?" Clearly, he did.
Perhaps a larger
question is what might have happened had he survived his midnight swim. The
release's second disc offers us an endlessly compelling "sketch" of an
unfinished future, or at least an intersting look at the creative process of
writing an album.
Study the four-track demos and explore step inside of the
singer's mind. Try to imagine your own favorite artist -- a young Bruce
Springsteen or David Bowie -- and imagine them leaving behind a handful of
demos, with which you try to paint an entire career.
Who knows what Jeff
Buckley would have become if he'd only lived long enough to record five or six
more albums? Maybe nothing. But with Sketches, he has provided ample reason to
celebrate his short existence.
Most of these reviews were collected by Gayle Kelemen and put
online at her
site before it was taken down.