Poor old Jeff: died too young after rashly going swimming in a big river with his boots on, leaving us with one album and memories of a fantastic voice.
That lone album Grace contains his cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, one of the finest tracks ever recorded. Never mind scouring the world for inspiration, Nasa only needs to stick this one song in a space ship travelling to the outer reaches and it would tell aliens everything they needed to know about human life: the beauty of the human voice, the bible and religious belief, emotions from melancholy to joy, and why governments have to issue public service announcements to otherwise intelligent people about the dangers of swimming with your clothes on.
Grace’s title track is a good sign of Buckley’s own talents as a songwriter, too; you get a dubious cover of Elkie Brooks’ Lilac Wine but nothing is perfect.
Buckley would have been 50 this year and doubtless a global act, with a classy back catalogue. Instead his estate is putting out this hodge-podge of demos and out-takes, tracks that would never have seen the light of day except on a collectors’ box set of rarities. Given that they are basically him messing about with his guitar there’s little variation and its overall feel is so downbeat it makes Leonard Cohen sound like the Vengaboys.
Opener Just Like A Woman is ok; Buckley, guitar, Bob Dylan tune, it would make a nice background track in Starbucks. The Smiths cover The Boy With the Thorn In His Side is ok, too, though only The Smiths can do it properly. Would he have ever released it? No. The bluesy Poor Boy Long Way From Home is not too bad. But a cover of Everyday People is something he would have shoved in a box marked “never play again”.
The demo of Grace is good, but really we’re bending over backwards to find praise by singling out these highlights out. It’s a depressing and unvarying album whose songs mostly should have been left in the vaults.