"Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk" by Jeff Buckley (1999)
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Before I proceed to review this album I need to do a little storytelling of my own. Jeff had a famous father, Tim Buckley, a folk/jazz renaissance man who's brilliant yet uneven career never quite took flight. His first album, Happy/Sad demonstrated a world of promise, but his musical output sputtered in fits and starts, that offered only fleeting glimpses of a brilliant musician who could never satisfy himself or the expectations of the record companies. He recorded nine albums, but never fully succeeded in translating his genius onto vinyl.
Blessed with a stunning voice, and command of a four octave range, Tim used his vocals as an instrument; but even this gift was wasted on inconsistent albums that ultimately never found a mainstream audience. Tim was surrounded by people who expected him to be the next big thing--which was a mantle he wasn't comfortable with and rebelled against. Sadly his life now serves as a cautionary tale for those seeking a maverick course to musical stardom. Tim made two attempts to fit his musical vision into the confines of mainstream accessibility, but ultimately his final two albums are regarded as his worst, and on June 29 1975, he was found dead of a heroin overdose.
Before his death Tim did produce one indisputable work of art that outlived his musical legacy--his son Jeff. Jeff grew up in Orange County with very little contact with his real father, but he certainly inherited his musical genius. As I described his father I may well have been describing Jeff. The amazing vocal gymnast whose avante garde vocal explorations are well beyond ordinary pop sensibilities both then and now. He also inherited his Father's magnetic presence and a charismatic personality.
Jeff began in New York and was quickly recognized as a potential star after the release of his debut EP At Sin-e. And then came Grace, a stunning full length debut that came close to making him as much of a household name as Dave Matthews. Grace has many moments of brilliance but was muddled by too much self-indulgent meandering and clever-for-the-sake-of-clever twists and turns.
While his band was actually in flight to join him in Memphis to begin preparations for the recording of Sweetheart, Jeff and his friend went out for a bite and ended up at the Wolf River Marina to watch the sunset. Typical of his impulsive nature, Jeff jumped in the river for a quick dip and never made it back to shore.
The best description I can offer is that Sweetheart sounds like an angry Abbey Road, the guitar work is Led Zeppelinesque and his lyrics have the acerbic bite of Roger Waters and rich imagery of Peter Gabriel Genesis. (In fact Sweetheart includes a cover of Genesis' "Back in N.Y.C." from their critically under appreciated masterpiece The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway) No one should ever attempt to cover this song--including Jeff.
But comparing Jeff is pointless--he was a unique animal whose cry in the wilderness will most likely remain obscured by the din of the music business mainstream machine. I suppose I'm giving it four stars because of how much I like it, rather than how highly I'd recommend it. Jeff isn't for everybody, but you can sample it first on the internet. The unfortunate fact that Jeff and his father died at almost the same age has spawned a lot of cyber-interest.
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