Tragically, there is no shortage of legendary rock musicians who have died while at the height of their creative powers. What is unusual about Jeff Buckley, however, is that his talent had gone largely unnoticed at the time of his drowning in 1997, and that it was only after his death that the majority of the world would discover his music.
To commemorate the tenth anniversary of his death, Sony has released “So Real: Songs from Jeff Buckley.” It may seem strange for a sort of “greatest hits” package to be assembled for an artist who had only a single studio album to their credit, but what an album it was! Though it was released to little fanfare in 1994, Buckley’s “Grace” has become recognized as a rock and roll masterpiece.
“So Real” contains four of the best tracks from that landmark album, as well as live and alternate versions of four others. The classic “Hallelujah” appears as the penultimate song in this anthology. While it is somewhat ironic that Buckley’s most well-known song would be a cover version, it is also arguably now the definitive version. Leonard Cohen must be at once jealous and proud.
Two other cover songs are also featured on the CD, both live performances. One is a French folk song by Edith Piaf, which has appeared on more than one of Buckley’s posthumous live albums. The other is a previously unreleased cover of “I Know It’s Over” by the Smiths, closing the album on a haunting and heartbreaking note.
While his near-falsetto vocal style on many songs has become part of Jeff Buckley’s signature sound, the intensity of his blazing guitar work has also drawn frequent and favorable comparisons to Led Zeppelin. This is most evident on the rage-fueled road version of “Eternal Life” that appears in this set. It is a dramatic contrast to the ethereal “Hallelujah”; it is loud, raw and intense rock and roll music.
Though he died before being able to finish the follow-up to “Grace,” a mish-mash of demos and near-complete songs was released as a rambling two CD set a year later. “So Real” includes three of the best tracks from that otherwise haphazard project. “The Sky Is A Landfill” and “Everybody Here Wants You” provide a glimpse at the great album that could have been.
“So Real” serves as an excellent introduction to the music of Jeff Buckley and a legacy that should have only been beginning when it instead came to a tragic end. If you already own the “Grace” album, this new anthology is still a recommended purchase as it truly culls together the best of the rest. If “Grace” is not part of your music collection, make it your next purchase; it is absolutely one of the best albums of the past twenty years.
This review originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of TC Style magazine