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Jeff Buckley

The offspring of the late, great TIM BUCKLEY, Jeff’s chosen career as a musician, singer and songwriter was always destined to bear the heavy burden of his father’s unique legacy. Torch rather than tortured, Jeff utilised his inherited multi-octave vocal chords in ever more impressive and innovative fashion, both in tackling an eclectic variety of cover material and lavishly dramatic originals. But in a bizarre twist of fate and morbid irony, his life mimicked that of his dad’s – right up to his untimely death in May 1997 at the age of 30.
To his credit, BUCKLEY Jnr. (born Jeffrey Scott Buckley, November 17, 1966, Anaheim, California) persevered at carving out a distinctive niche in the musical landscape of the early 90s, plugging away on the once legendary Greenwich Village scene of New York; prior to that he’d performed on the L.A. circuit, branching out into jazz-funk and dancehall reggae while performing with English-born ragga master, SHINEHEAD. Checking in with former CAPTAIN BEEFHEART alumna GARY LUCAS in his revolving-door Gods And Monsters collective, BUCKLEY contributed his first recorded lyrics; “his magical guitarness” Gary would return the favour by co-scribing and sessioning on a few songs on Jeff’s debut set.
Given his first break by Columbia Records in 1993, via the `Live At Sin-e’ (a mini-set clocking in at 26 minutes), BUCKLEY’s un-reaching scat falsettos were oh so impressive on `Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin’ (formerly sung by Edith Piaf) and a 10-minute excursion through VAN MORRISON’s `The Way Young Lovers Do’; the independent Big Cat Records issued the record the following spring.
BUCKLEY was a surprise success at the grunge overload of Reading 1994, coinciding with the release of his debut, GRACE (1994) {*9}, an emotionally raw and occasionally claustrophobic listen that gained almost unanimous praise from UK critics (enjoying a brief residence in the Top 50), while his homeland was slow to show its appreciation as it stalled at No.149. Tracks such as `So Real’, `Last Goodbye’, `Dream Brother’ and `Mojo Pin’ (the latter a GARY LUCAS co-penned studio take that also opened the “Sin-e” EP), suggested a mercurial talent in the ascendant, although the lad had possibly listened to too much LED ZEPPELIN as a youth. Once the hot property of Brit-belter ELKIE BROOKS, his classy croon of `Lilac Wine’ was one of a triumvirate of covers; the other gems coming through Benjamin Britten’s `Corpus Christi Carol’ and the oft-recited LEONARD COHEN gospel `Hallelujah’; the latter a posthumous hit in 2007 – in protest to the X-Factor winner.
Eventually resuming his recording career early in 1997 with TOM VERLAINE at the controls, BUCKLEY looked like making a severe dent in the rock mainstream with his scheduled sophomore set, although subsequent sessions proved problematic. Fate was to deal a cruel hand when, on May 29, 1997, Jeff, like his father before him, was cut down in his prime; hardly a typical rock’n’roll death, the young singer was swept away by a powerful current while swimming in Memphis’s Mud Island Harbor; his drowned body was found floating in the city’s Beale Street area nearly a week later.
Exactly a year later, the half-finished project BUCKLEY had been working on at the time of his death was posthumously released as SKETCHES FOR MY SWEETHEART THE DRUNK (1998) {*8}. A double-disc partly curated by his mother Mary Guibert, the UK Top 10 set gave an indication as to where Jeff was headed, as well as serving as a convincing last word on the career of a man many considered a genius. The TELEVISION/VERLAINE-like riffs were evident on opener `The Sky Is A Landfill’, while his exacting gentile moods appeared on `Everybody Here Wants You’. The ironic poignancy and brooding delivery of `Nightmares By The Sea’, the mantra levels of `New Year’s Prayer’ (both revisited on disc two) and pop quirkiness of `Witches’ Rave’, the set was diverse to say the least. Throw in the harmony-driven and haunting `Vancouver’, the grunge-kick of `Haven’t You Heard’, the “hardcore-porn” punk of `Your Flesh Is Nice’, or the Thom Yorke mimicry of `Murder Suicide Meteor Slave’, the record was certainly in the words of BOWIE: “a crash course for the ravers”. But it was the wide variety of cover renditions that gave the set body and soul: from Pendulum Floors and his former girlfriend INGER LORRE’s `Yard Of Blonde Girls’ to mid-70s GENESIS nugget `Back In N.Y.C.’, topped delicately by Jack Rhodes & Joe Hayes’ country song `Satisfied Mind’, the album was certainly a mixed bag of all-sorts.
Further posthumous releases and compilations were of course delivered at periodical intervals, the first of these falling to MYSTERY WHITE BOY: LIVE ‘95-‘96 (2000) {*6}, a collection of live performances culled from the DAT recordings of his “Grace” tour. Interesting once again for its bookend addendums of cover versions, BUCKLEY showed his versatility through Arlen & Gershwin’s `The Man That Got Away’, BIG STAR’s `Kanga Roo’ and The SMITHS’ `I Know It’s Over’ (the latter segued with `Hallelujah’). Like the post-death recordings of his father, this record would no doubt be cherished by hardcore fans, although its interest to the wider music buying public (outside the UK, where it hit the Top 10) might well be more limited. SONGS TO NO ONE 1991-1992 (2002) {*3} – relaying his songs penned credited with GARY LUCAS – was a typical example of what should’ve been left in the vaults, while LIVE A L’OLYMPIA (2001) {*8} cemented his willingness to try out Edith Piaf impersonations and a couple of hard-rock covers via LED ZEPPELIN’s `Kashmir’ and MC5’s `Kick Out The Jams’.
Boosted by a raft of songs spread over a double CD and accompanying DVD, LIVE AT SIN-E {*7} was given a complete overhaul by Columbia’s Legacy department in 2003. Once again, covers were the order of the day as BUCKLEY ploughed through add-on works by VAN MORRISON (`Sweet Thing’), DYLAN (`I Shall Be Released’ and `Just Like A Woman’), NINA SIMONE (`If You Knew’), LED ZEPPELIN (`Night Flight’), RAY CHARLES (with Henry Glover’s `Drown In My Own Tears’), NUSRAT FATEH ALI KHAN (`Yeh Jo Halka Halka Saroor Hai’) among others. The UK charting SO REAL: SONGS FROM JEFF BUCKLEY (2007) {*7} was arguably a culmination of his best-loved pieces.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/BG-GRD // rev-up MCS Aug2012

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