Albums Of The Week

Voice of an icon

Rolling Stone magazine calls Jeff Buckley one of the 100 greatest singers of all time.
Rolling Stone magazine calls Jeff Buckley one of the 100 greatest singers of all time.PHOTO: COLUMBIA/LEGACY RECORDINGS

Indie rock singer Jeff Buckley's raw innocence shines through in his latest album, You And I

Nearly two decades after he drowned at the age of 30 while swimming in the Mississippi River, Jeff Buckley has grown in stature, attaining a status more mythical than that of his equally sweet-voiced father, Tim.

The problem is, the former left behind only one studio album, his luminous debut, Grace (1994).

Since then, the vaults have been ransacked ad nauseam and the latest, You And I, is a stack of demos unearthed while the label was preparing the 20th anniversary of his first album.

Are these meant for public consumption or just private practice sessions? The question haunts even as one relishes the nascent beginnings of an icon.

In February 1993, about four months after signing to Columbia, Buckley was bundled into a New York studio for a day with producer Steve Berkowitz to try to finesse a sound, to find his artistic voice.

But what a voice - the limber voice that elevates Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah to the ether, capable of vertiginous dips and highs, belonging to one of the 100 greatest singers of all time, as decreed by Rolling Stone magazine.

These 10 tracks will reaffirm that belief and, more importantly, bring him down to earth and reveal the humanity behind that instrument.



    Jeff Buckley

    Columbia/Legacy Recordings

    3.5/5 stars

There is a raw innocence, a purity in his pursuit of transcendence.

This is a musician in love with the transformative power of music, as he finds hearth in songs by the likes of Sly And The Family Stone, Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin.

As with most gifted vocalists, he knows when not to belt, but to go soft and let it rip much later.

Such is his take on Gerry And The Pacemakers' blues classic, Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying.

Accompanied by his electric guitar, he coos the words sotto voce, yet manages to evince the intensity at the core.

His seriousness is leavened by in-between banter, in which he reveals that he does not remember who wrote that track.

His two Smiths covers - The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and I Know It's Over - are less melismatic than others and yet show his uncanny ability to connect to the lyrics, whatever they may be.

When his magic shines through, as in his luminous version of Bob Dylan's Just Like A Woman, he can sound otherworldly and, suddenly, you are thankful for any last shred of Buckley.

The guitar rings like a bell and that voice flies, defying gravity, in a cavern. Those androgynous pipes are also in fine fettle when he takes on Jevetta Steele's Calling You (from the 1987 arthouse film, Bagdad Cafe).

He stretches selected vowels till they become something else, beyond words and meaning.

He is not aiming for accuracy or stylistics. It is a kind of calling, literally.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2016, with the headline 'Voice of an icon'. Print Edition | Subscribe