So Real: Songs from Jeff Buckley Label: Columbia / Legacy
Jeff Buckley’s death was one of the most tragic in rock n’ roll history, and given rock’s longstanding history of tragic deaths, that’s really saying something. Not only didn’t Buckley get a fair shake at having a long and prosperous career, but, even worse, he didn’t even get to go out in a blaze of glory. Instead, he drowned in Wolf River Harbor, in Memphis, Tennessee, at the age of 30, after making what I think we can all agree was, at best, an incredibly poor decision: to go swimming while fully clothed and, uh, wearing a pair of steel-toed boots.
At the time of his death, Buckley had only put out one studio album (1994’s Grace), which was bookended by two live EPs (1993’s Live at Sin-é and 1996’s Live from the Bataclan); as is the case with any record company with a dead star on its hands, however, it didn’t take long for the glut of posthumous releases to emerge. (As an avowed Smiths fan, we’d like to think that Buckley would understand how we were essentially compelled to offer that paraphrase from “Paint a Vulgar Picture.”) Since his passing, the market has been flooded with a scandalous amount of new Buckley collections:
- Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk, a 2-disc collection of songs earmarked for the sophomore effort that never was.
- Songs to No One 1991-1992, a collection of Buckley’s pre-Sony material.
- two full-length live albums, Mystery White Boy: Live ’95-’96 and Live at L’Olympia.
- a highly expanded reissue of Live at Sin-é that transforms it from an EP into a 2-CD set.
- a 5-CD set of EPs which rounds up most – though not all – of the tracks from Buckley’s various promo-only releases.
- a “Legacy Edition” version of Grace which expands the album into a whopping 3 disc set (2 CDs and a DVD).
To be fair, many of these were done with the direct assistance of Buckley’s mother, Mary Guibert, but, still, there just seems something inherently wrong about the size of this list -- and, now, we must add yet another: So Real: Songs from Jeff Buckley, which attempts to take Buckley’s musical history and summarize it into a single disc. Now, theoretically, this shouldn’t be all that hard, since, y’know, he only ever released one album in his lifetime; unfortunately, the end result is a scattershot affair that tries to be all things to all people and, despite containing a certain amount of indispensable material, fails to score success across the board.
So Real is clearly intended to provide a look at the various different facets of Jeff Buckley, and, at least on that level, it succeeds. Wisely, the executive producers of the set stick with the original studio versions of “Last Goodbye,&lrquo; “Grace,” and Buckley’s transcendent cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” as well as “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”; beyond that, Grace is represented by a particularly nice live, acoustic version of So Real, the version of “Mojo Pin” from Live at Sin-é, an alternate take of “Dream Brother,” and a take on “Eternal Life” that’s described as a “road version.” The fantastic trio of tracks from Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk provide three reasons to still be distraught over Buckley’s untimely passing; whatever songs that second album would’ve included, it’s clear from these examples that it would’ve easily matched the quality of Grace. Of the other live tracks, it’s the last – a previously-unreleased cover of The Smiths’ “I Know It’s Over” – that’s ultimately the most poignant...but, then, whenever Morrissey’s own light finally goes out, it’ll seem poignant to hear him singing, “Oh, Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head,” too.
Jeff Buckley’s a figure who, despite his limited oeuvre, still managed to make a considerable mark in music; So Real, however, smacks of just another excuse to repackage his material. At best, it can be argued as a decent sampler of his work, but, ultimately, those interested in investigating his music would be better served by just picking up a copy of Grace and moving forward from there.