Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Buck's redux

Jeff Buckley, as you must be aware of by now, was the singer-songwriter with the angelic visage cut from a sugar cube and a voice like Paul Robeson sucking on a roomful of helium balloons. His range skewed high but it was all muscle: It stretched to nearly four octaves and it was delivered with a vibrato with enough fluid energy to capsize the Staten Island Ferry. Buckley drowned tragically in 1997 leaving behind a scant legacy of one proper studio album. Since his death, an unfinished second album and a set of live recordings have been retooled into a vulgar trove of endless posthumous repackagings.

Early on, critics would accuse him of wannabe jazzerism; charges he'd emphatically deny. (According to the interview below, his early critics were not kind. How time changes everything.) Buckley was nothing if not versatile, being equally deft at popping off a classic French ditty, jazz standards, hessian guitar rock, or even tear into a proggy mastadon like Genesis's Back in New York and all done with a punk-like intensity. He was also capable of going to nerdy places even geeks like the Ramones wouldn't touch. (He had the silly-head of a potentially amazing father.) Add to this a curatorial ear for pairing songs to that voice with seamless accuracy: a shrewd genius he was. And a pretty good guitar player too. His voice and a guitar were all he needed to slay you. And that's exactly what he does here.

The stream below is from an early appearance on Liza Richardson's KCRW show. While the date isn't specified it's most likely somewhere between the release of Live at Sin-é and Grace which would put the date at early 1994. Although, when he mentions moving to New York City in 1990 Richardson responds to that date with, "so, a couple of years ago" which would move the date up a couple of years. Regardless, his talent is already fully forged here. And besides being generously goofy he also proves himself utterly unpretentious: He doesn't take himself or his prodigious talent too seriously—amazingly. Remember that shortly after this he'd be lauded and larded with enough hyperbole to jade even the most uncorruptable—by such somebodies as Dylan, Bowie, Plant, Pitt (Brad), and many others. Perhaps his humility came from his teenage years among "the Disneyland Nazi youth" in Anaheim, a place where he never learned to be comfortable. New York would be his Mecca. (Those of us who also came of age in Orange County can surely understand the feeling.)

Listen and hear Buckley bounce from Bad Brains to Billie Holiday with equal authentic certainty. John Cale may've been the first to unearth Hallelujah from it's dusty Cohen cabinet (and gift it to new generations via Shrek), but it's Buckley who'll forever own the song. (I hope to live in a world one day that'll prove that statement wrong but I won't hold my breath.) 

It appears the embed is no longer functional: Go here to hear it.

And then, Scarlett Johansson: You'd have to wonder, what kind of Hellcat is this part time singer who thinks she can strut into Buckley territory and not completely humiliate herself? Do a YouTube search on Hallelujah and find armies of twee mortals who couldn't even begin to tie Buckley's shoe. (The one exception may be k.d. lang.) In any event, in the sub-genre of celebrity vanity projects, for this Hellcat Scarlett Johansson, her's may be one of the best.

Give ScarJo some respect. And, boys, that means with more than just your left hand.

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