This article was originally published in August 2014. We’re republishing it today in remembrance of Jeff Buckley, who passed away 20 years ago this upcoming week.
Twenty years ago this week, the Earth was graced by what would end up being the only full-length release of a beautiful voice. Jeff Buckley’s songs can cut about as deep as the gaping hole that opened with his passing. Twenty years have seen his legacy and appreciation expand exponentially, and out of that deep respect we write.
The son of folksinger Tim Buckley and a classically trained cellist mother, music was in Buckley’s veins from day one. Yet despite his early baptism, for years the singer-songwriter struggled to find entry into the music industry. During that time, he bounced in and out of funk, metal, and reggae bands while holding down a hotel job to pay the bills. Many point to a tribute concert for his father in 1991 as the moment his career began to gain momentum.
The importance of this early period should not be underscored, it allowed Buckley to experiment endlessly both with his voice and his six-string. By the time mainstream audiences met him, Buckley held an extensive vocabulary of chords and phrases, one with range near equivalent to that of his voice. Jazz, World Music, Zeppelin — snippets of all of these dispositions leaked into Buckley’s originals and the covers he chose. Many of his songs listen like the free-form poetry from which he drew his lyrics: The melodies followed the words, and this fluidity freed him from the verse-chorus structure that chained many of his ’90s contemporaries. It was a style which lay in complete servitude to his famously epic vocal control. One can only speculate on the prospect of Buckley delving into more avant-garde realms of vocal manipulation that electronic equipment has allowed for in the years following his death.
Sadly, we will never see any further fruits of Buckley’s eclectic pallet. What sits in its place is the knowledge of his untimely demise and the twinkle of our own mortality it brings to mind. However, there is still the brilliance of Grace along with a tiny ocean of covers, unreleased originals, and an unfinished second album. Fighting back the tears, we’ve pored over all this material and come back with a comprehensive list of everything Buckley — the bad, the good, and the transcendent.