Title - 'So Real: Songs from Jeff Buckley' (Legacy)
Artist - Jeff Buckley
One of the best things about reviewing music is that it compels the writer to listen hard and fair to everything that comes out of a speaker. If you attempt to write something based solely on your own preconceptions, then a) you aren't listening, and b) you are not qualified to inflict others with your words. Jeff Buckley was the type of artist that I knew had special qualities, but there were elements of his presentation that held me at arm's length.
His singing range was extraordinary, but his dramatic tendencies often overwhelmed me. Sometimes, I even found myself recoiling as he floated freely in the ether, conveying a part of his spirit that eluded me entirely. Until I understood this aspect of his art, I knew I was unqualified to review his music, but "So Real: Songs from Jeff Buckley" has taught me how to listen.
The problem I had with most all previous product by Buckley - and I've heard most of them -is that they presumed you to understand Buckley's genius. "Live at Sin-e" "and "Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk" both overwhelmed me, for very different reasons. "...Sin-e" is concise, but it puts Buckley on display as a performer, and left me wondering if he was emotionally attached to the songs, or simply in love with the sound of his own voice. "...Drunk" was an embarrassment of riches, with way too much material for me to digest, especially since most of it was left unfinished in the wake of Buckley's untimely death. Only "Grace" conveyed a full picture of the man as a fully developed artist, and even that record demanded that you understand and accept his strange welding of Van Morrison's spirit with Robert Plant's histrionics.
"So Real" is by far the best place for a person to discover the beauty of Buckley's music. By culling the best bits of his recorded output and distributing them intelligently over one exceptional disk, it serves as a roadmap into the soul of an extremely gifted performer. Parts of this collection are merely brilliant; other parts are revelatory. The "Grace" selections sound every bit as good today as they did back in '94, while songs like "Forget Her" and "Eternal Life" (both from posthumous releases) are frighteningly intense and emotionally stunning. For reasons similar to those I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I recently indulged myself in the music of Leonard Cohen and I now find myself with a respect for his artistry that borders on awe.
Re-hearing Buckley's version of Cohen's "Hallelujah" makes it obvious that this is a definitive performance, as if sung by a fallen angel who embraces the sanctity of this mortal coil. There are still moments of excess, but instead of histrionics, I now hear an artist utilizing every ounce of his ability to convey something that is spiritual and ethereal, but also `so real'. I know I waited too long to truly hear the elegance and raw emotion in Jeff Buckley's music. I hope you don't make the same mistake.