Let me set the scene. I was a 17-year old lad in Stoke-on-Trent, my friend lent me a CD called 'Live at Sin-é' by this guy called Jeff Buckley. I'd never heard of him but he said I'd like it, so I took it to my car, got in my piece of crap Renault Clio and popped the CD in. I browsed the tracklist and noticed there were lots of covers, so I put on 'Just Like a Woman' to hear his take on Bob Dylan. I switched on my engine, put my seatbelt on, and was just about to pull the handbrake down to reverse, and then I heard his voice. I stopped what I was doing, moved my hand away from the handbrake, and just sat there for 7 minutes and 27 seconds, listening to the whole track in my car without moving. That was the day I went from 'amateur music lover', to 'professional music lover'; the flame had been ignited.
I wish I could say the above is just poetic nonsense, but that's exactly how it happened, scene-by-scene, verbatim. There's a bit at 5:09mins where you can actually hear his heart break in two, it lifted me off my seat and sent shivers down my back and arms. I just couldn't believe someone could do this with just a voice and a guitar. I opened up the album sleeve after, expecting to see a black soul singer, and to my shock, I saw a picture of a skinny white kid in an oversized t-shirt looking up at the sky. I immediately had to know everything about Jeff Buckley.
'Live at Sin-é' remains my favourite album of all time. It has been, and still is, the key to everything I do. I could speak about this album so passionately, track-by-track, monologue-by-monologue, that it would bore even the most steely-fanned of you. I hold everything on it so close to my heart, and so close to my soul. It is my ayahuasca, my key into the spiritual world, and the beauty of it is you don't need to go to an Amazonian Rainforest to experience it, you can just play it off your iPod on the Jubilee Line. Fucking Technology eh?
I want to speak about 3 elements of Jeff though:
1) His voice
I really believe Jeff was some sort of Angel. I mean who the fuck would sing 'Dido's Lament' at Meltdown festival? Who on earth would do his take on the Janet Baker version of 'Corpus Christi Carol' on their debut album? Who would sing Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan!? And play some of the most insane guitar work I've ever heard whilst doing it? Jeff Buckley would, and did, like it was nothing. He was Page & Plant combined. Jimmy Page even saw him and couldn't put enough superlatives together to praise him. His voice was stratospheric. In my opinion the greatest singer of all time, in any genre. And he was originally just a guitarist, he never really sang much in public until the Tim Buckley tribute gig at St Ann's Church in '91. And Matt Johnson his former drummer, even said that he never ONCE saw Jeff warm-up in 2 years of touring, on either guitar or vocals. From a technical standpoint, that is literally insane.
The way he interprets songs, is just magnificent. Strange Fruit, The Way Young Lovers Do, Sweet Thing, Hallelujah, Lilac Wine, Alligator Wine, I Know It's Over; the guitar arrangements and vocal skills on these are the greatest. That's where he shines, he is untouchable here.
2) His persona
The other reason I love 'Live at Sin-é' so much, is because Jeff Buckley is a funny fucker. Every monologue between tracks is like a solid stand-up set. He was witty, thoughtful, artistic, creative and someone who seemed to be operating on a much higher consciousness than most. I really feel he knew something we didn't, and just chose to never share it. Listen to this interview, it says so much more about him than I ever could.
As much as I love Jeff Buckley, he was one of the WORST songwriters of all time. And let me explain that. Imagine if Lionel Messi, with all his astonishing footballing talents, only scored 1 goal a year? Someone who the whole world could see was underperforming due to his outstanding abilities. That was Jeff.
In total, Jeff wrote 4 songs on Grace from the 10. And they were songs he'd had for a long time. The rest were covers, or brought to him ('Grace' & 'Mojo Pin' were from Gary Lucas, 'So Real' riff was from Michael Tighe). And apart from around 2 possible great songs from 'Sketches..', those songs sounded pretty terrible on the most part, like a garage band's rough recordings. And this is coming from one of his biggest fans.
I guess I've always found it bizarre how someone with such an incredible voice, amazing guitar skills, and a fantastic taste in music, could produce such a meager body of work in such a long time frame. I will never understand that. But he did write 'Lover, You Should Have Come Over', which is lyrically and musically spellbinding.
Without sounding too fanboy, I wrote a song about him entitled 'Grace'. The song is written from Jeff's perspective, specifically when he was 8-years old and his mother took him to meet his estranged musician father Tim Buckley, for the first and only time. Jeff said of the time, that his father didn’t really talk to him and just stayed in the studio for the few days. It’s the story of absence & rejection, and a metaphor that can resonate with a lot of people. The outro finishes on the incredible twist-of-fate of how Jeff was discovered; playing a Tim Buckley tribute gig at St Ann’s Cathedral. It’s the ‘phoenix from the flames’ moment, with Jeff rising above his father’s history and making a claim for his own name, his own career. It says that I’ll bloom inspite of your fame, I'll do this on my own credit as a musician, and I'll be known as Jeff Buckley, not 'the son of Tim Buckley'... Even Hollywood could not write a script as good as this. (You can read the lyrics here).
To pick just one Jeff song as a standout track is impossible for me, as I really feel 'Sin-é' is like a book, you need to listen to all the chapters to really understand it. But as clichéd as it is, I guess I would & should pick 'Hallelujah'. The final take ended up being a comp of over 50 takes, and the sigh you hear at the beginning of the recorded version is Jeff being annoyed at himself for not being able to get the take he wanted. Here is one of those takes, RIP Jeff.