I have been robbed – something precious has been stolen from me, the music of Jeff Buckley, the virtuoso, singer/songwriter son of the late folk singer Tim Buckley.
Jeff Buckley, born November 17, 1966, was on the verge of mass popularity, when he died tragically at the tender age of 30 on June 4, 1997. An odd parallel to this tragedy is that his father died at age 28 of a heroin overdose, a painful loss for two generations of music lovers.
Jeff’s music is difficult to describe – it is elegant and majestic while simultaneously soulful and full of passion. One senses that Jeff was a soul not long for this world, like the rare talented musician whose musical inspiration is something that swells forth like a quiet ocean tide, rather than being contrived through painstaking verse-chorus-verse studio tinkering. Jeff was music – he lived and breathed his royal musical ancestry.
Columbia has re-released, remastered and greatly extended the EP, Live at Sin-’e, a live recording of Jeff’s early work from ’93 performed at the New York club, Sin-’e. The new release includes a DVD interview with the artist, and about twenty song performances, including covers of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Nina Simone.
This is an excellent collection for old fans hungering for more raw material and for new fans just discovering Buckley’s talent, a hint of what is was like to see the energetic and engaging Buckley performing in an intimate environment.
Some of the songs that would later be released on his debut Grace can be heard in their infancy on Sin-’e. Although, “Last Goodbye” was the single released by Sony from Buckley’s debut album Grace, I have always felt “Lover You Should’ve Come Over” showcased Buckley’s songwriting and musical talent most truly.
Buckley’s tale of young love is written from the perspective of a man in the midst of searing reflection, perhaps on the verge of losing the best thing he’s ever had:
- Looking out the door I see the rain fall upon the funeral mourners
Parading in a wake of sad relations as their shoes fill up with water
And maybe I’m too young to keep good love from going wrong
But tonight you’re on my mind so you never know
….Will I ever see your sweet return
Oh will I ever learn
Oh lover, you should’ve come over
Cause it’s not too late
….It’s never over, all my riches for her smiles when I slept so soft against her
It’s never over, all my blood for the sweetness of her laughter
It’s never over, she’s the tear that hangs inside my soul forever
….Well maybe I’m just too young
To keep good love from going wrong
….Oh… lover, you should’ve come over
‘Cause it’s not too late
Done acoustically and emotionally on Sin-’e, I actually find the arrangement on Grace more fitting of the song’s tone. There, it begins with an instrument called a harmonium (a small organ), which ties in well with the “funeral procession” allusions he makes, and it gives a sense of dying emotion – a love that’s fading away. For anyone who’s had love slip away from them, this song can be truly heart-wrenching.
Back to Sin-’e, Jeff covers Leonard Cohen’s haunting “Hallelujah,” choosing to cover the John Cale version (and with good reason). As Jeff described it in an interview, “Hallelujah” is a song about the primitive emotions of love and sex, the almighty orgasm. His voice gives dimensions to the song that take it from being a classic song of earthly love to being something ethereal, indeed heavenly.
Sin-’e covers include Dylan’s “Like a Woman”, a song that before I heard Jeff do it was just another Dylan great – I had no idea of the song’s sexual connotations. Buckley has a way of doing that with pretty much any song he chooses, but not in a lascivious way – his is a much more organic and real feel, perhaps the way all good love should be.
At his live shows, Buckley would often play his own version of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” in a very quiet and plodding style – Buckley really emphasizes shock, horror, violence and injustice as a witness to a lynching, and fortunately this is included on the Sin-’e re-release.
There is also a ton of noodling here, and while I typically loathe that sort of thing, Jeff is an amazing guitar player and he makes it almost like listening (almost – but not quite) to Hendrix in practice, and that’s a real compliment in my book.
Bob Telson’s “Calling You” is resurrected and sounds gorgeous and lush with the velvety tones of Buckley’s voice. This is a new fave for me.
I would be remiss not to mention “Last Goodbye,” Jeff’s best-known song. If I hadn’t fallen in love with “Lover..,” this would be my favorite song of heartache and breakup. Jeff had amazing insight into the pain and ache of losing that which makes us feel immortal: love.
Jeff and his bandmates were working on a new studio release in Memphis at the time of his death. An unusually early evening of playing music ended at dusk and as they passed a local tributary to the Mississippi river, Buckley, a man guided by “living in the moment,” requested they stop by the side of the road so he could go for a quick swim.
As dusk turned to dark, the pitch-black of the murky river swallowed his slender body in a passing undertow and we were all deprived of his beauty forever. His death is a “tear that hangs inside my soul forever” with the knowledge that his voice will never be heard anew ever again.
If you don’t own anything by Jeff Buckley, start with Grace, then, if you like it, or love it as I do, buy Live at Sin-’e. I typically shy away from live versions of anything, but sadly a Jeff Buckley fan must take whatever material is available, and this is more than good enough.