Rolling Stone - Live At Sin-é reviewed by Paul Evans
March 10 1994
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.
Seventeen - 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.
Melody Maker - Live At Sin-é reviewed by Matt Smith
April 9 1994
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!
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.
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.
Stereo Review - Live At Sin-é reviewed by Parke Puterbaugh
Performance rating: Astonishing
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
Performance rating: 10
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.
Billboard - Grace reviewed by Jim Bessman
July 16 1994
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 November.
"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 own".
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 weeks prior.
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".
The 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 did".
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 radio play.
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 Brother.
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 name.
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
August 13 1994
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 singer.
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.
So 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 (Alright!!!--Ed).
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 off.
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.
Seventeen - 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
November 3 1994
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 sins.
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 effects.
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
Stereo Review - Grace reviewed by Parke Puterbaugh
Performance rating: Otherwordly
Recording rating: Good
"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.
The Jerusalem Post - Grace reviewed by Tirzah Agassi
January 7 1995
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 sensitive.
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 love you".
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 So Real.
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
WHITE INTERPRETATIONS 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.
Superstar hunk 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 art.
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 No 1
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.
Jeff 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.
He covers 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 back again".
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 to".
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 August.
"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 10
RiYL: R.E.M., Nick Drake, Elliot Smith, Verve, Tim Buckley
The 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.
But 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 his own.
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.
CMJ New Music Monthly - Sketches reviewed by Chris Molanphy
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.
Rolling Stone - Sketches reviewed by David Fricke
May 28 1998
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 miss.
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.
Rock 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 Youth.
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 reason.
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.
His 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 Drunk.
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.