Jeff Buckley

Live at Sin-é (Columbia)

The late Jeff Buckley (1966-1997) was a singularly amazing vocalist -- a trait shared with his father, avant-folk troubadour Tim Buckley (1947-1975). Like his dad, Buckley could purr like a jungle cat, sigh like a Delta bluesman, improvise like a jazz singer and shriek like a half-mad banshee from some mythic Scottish moor. Originally released in 1993, Live at Sin-é, named for a now-defunct New York club where he had a regular solo gig, was the world's introduction to Jeff. This two-CD re-release expands the program from twenty-six minutes to two and a half illuminating, scintillating hours.

Aside from being a songwriter, Jeff Buckley was an article rare in post-Dylan generations: an interpretive singer, one who drew from unfashionably diverse sources. Live is mostly covers, but like Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra, Buckley reinvents others' songs, making them virtually his own. His sensitive, pleading version of Johnny Mathis' romantic ballad "The Twelfth of Never" flickers like the flame of a candle blown by a gentle ocean breeze, and Holiday's "Strange Fruit" gets an extremely spare, bluesy treatment further accenting the song's already harrowing narrative, with Buckley's guitar cracking like thunder, his voice howling like ghosts of the murdered demanding justice. Paying tribute to his more direct vocal influences, he covers Van Morrison ("The Way Young Lovers Do," given a sensuous, surreal, extended jazz-scat workout) and Led Zeppelin ("Night Flight") -- both very appropriate, as sometimes Buckley sounded like a cross between Morrison and Zep's Robert Plant.

One notable aspect is the inclusion of between-song patter (usually the bane of live albums), providing a bracing, refreshing contrast between the intense commitment of Buckley's vocalisms and his witty, self-effacing monologues. One of his jokes is bashing out the opening chords to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," then singing along like Pakistani vocalist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (another inspiration, who's also covered here). Far from being a move to exploit another deceased artist -- and Buckley was indeed an artist -- Live at Sin-é -- Legacy Edition serves to enrich the man's slim recorded output.

 
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