Jeff Buckley
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The Boston Phoenix , - May 14 - 21, 1998
Fetching Sketches : Jeff Buckley's heartbreaking swan song - by Stephanie Zacharek

For an artist with Jeff Buckley's perceptiveness, sense of subtlety and craftsmanship, and off-the-planet vocal prowess, the two-CD Sketches (for my sweetheart, the drunk), due from Columbia on May 26, isn't the album it should be. But for Sketches to be that album -- for it to be more than just "sketches" for the LP Buckley, the son of '70s folk-rocker Tim Buckley, was in the process of making when he drowned accidentally in the Mississippi River last May 29 -- he would still have to be alive.

As it is, for those of us who knew and loved Buckley's work -- and especially for those of us who'd seen how transcendent his live performances could be -- there's no way to look at Sketches with any sort of critical acuity. I could tell you which songs I think sound forced and overprocessed, and which shimmer with spontaneity and brilliance. But in the end I'd find myself slipping into the old cafeteria-style approach critics fall back on when they really don't know what to say: pick two mediocre songs from Column A and balance them against two remarkable ones from Column B. Wind it all up with a dutiful summary about how longtime fans will like this CD but novices would do best to start elsewhere.

Sketches is one of those rare albums that renders judgments about quality beside the point. It's not that it's churlish to find fault with a dead man's work: at this point, Buckley doesn't need anybody's charity. It's just that Sketches -- with its "bad" tracks and its good ones --ultimately isn't about the content of the songs, the arrangements, or even the naked beauty of Buckley's singing at its best. It's about the process of invention, about the life that a work of art has even before it's been poked and prodded and pruned into a form the artist deems acceptable for public consumption. Sketches is a truly organic album, and not merely because most of the songs on the second disc are works in progress, some of which Buckley recorded on a home four-track. You can hear him playing around with sound, still being surprised by the muscle of his own voice, and that makes Sketches seem so alive that it changes shape every time you listen. Tracks I could take or leave on the first go-round (the ominous and gorgeous "Vancouver"; two different versions of the moody-yet-glam "Nightmares by the Sea") became tracks I felt compelled to return to again and again. The art-rocky sing-song burlesque of "Haven't You Heard?" and the shapeless, metallic spacesuit guitar of "Murder Suicide Meteor Slave" are things I could do without today -- but I have no idea how I'll feel about them next week.

Maybe for that reason -- that Sketches is such a transmutable, idiosyncratic, troubling little work -- it's worth noting that anybody unfamiliar with Jeff Buckley probably should start with Live at Sin-É (Columbia), the 1993 EP that, even though it comprises just four songsrecorded in a tiny New York City coffeehouse, stands as Buckley's masterwork. Austere, spontaneous, and mind-bendingly inventive, Live at Sin-É captures the magnetic intensity he could achieve in live performance.

Perhaps (and he died too young for us ever to know the answer) Buckley was one of those performers who was at his best when he could feed off the energy of a live audience. His 1994 studio LP, Grace, is a gorgeously crafted work that displays his talents like an emperor's robe, resplendent and awe-inspiring. And yet it somehow keeps us at arm's length, whereas he could draw a live audience into an almost eerie kind of intimacy that I don't think I've seen with any other performer. He always wore his influences -- Edith Piaf, Ella Fitzgerald, Leonard Cohen, Prince and/or Smokey Robinson, to name only a small fraction -- like stars in a crown, often paying tribute to them openly by performing their songs. His covers of Big Star's "Kangaroo" and Cohen's "Hallelujah" (the latter appears, in a relatively lackluster version, on Grace) stopped me cold when I heard them live here in Boston in 1994. Buckley, for all his youth -- he was only 30 when he died -- tapped the very depths of those songs, and he also made them new, finding new contours that even those of us who'd heard the originals dozens of times didn't know they had.

All of that openness, that willingness to burrow into a song, is there on Sketches. Many of these tracks are clearly in a raw state: Buckley and his band (including Nick Grondahl on bass, Michael Tighe on guitar, and Parker Kindred and Eric Eidel on drums) had been working on some of them with producer Tom Verlaine in late 1996 and early 1997, in both New York and Memphis. Reported to be unhappy with the sessions, Buckley had sent his band back to New York from Memphis in February of 1997; he remained behind to rework some of the songs recorded with Verlaine and to record some new ones on a four-track. When he died, he was about to begin three weeks of rehearsals with his band before recording the planned album, My Sweetheart, The Drunk, with producer Andy Wallace in Memphis in late June. The tracks that ultimately appeared on Sketches were assembled posthumously by Buckley's mother, Mary Guibert, and several of his friends and colleagues.

It would be useless, and frustrating, to approach the tracks on Sketches wondering what Buckley would have done with them. They really are just sketches, often partly formed, scantily clad, ghostly shapes, only half into the real world, venturing out into daylight blinking and confused. The only way to approach them with any sense of peace is to come at them as they are, boldly, and try to talk yourself out of the notion that you're clutching desperately at something that's gone.

In some ways, Buckley has made that task easy for us. Sketches may be a confoundingly uneven collection, but because his vocals are so passionate and visceral, it isn't a morbid one. Buckley has always sounded wraithlike -- his voice conjures visions of Spanish moss hanging in the misty night, or of illicit moonlight trysts under bowers of lilac. Yet for all its delicacy, his brand of romanticism also has muscle. He wasn't an elfin manchild performer afraid of overt sexuality. Even when he sang falsetto with the purity of a castrato, he was anything but sexless, and many of the songs on Sketches crackle with his supercharged eroticism. On "Morning Theft" he explores the futility, and the necessity, of trying to connect with a lover, giving even conventional symbols for sexuality a new kind of meaning: "You're a window, I'm a knife/ We come together making chance in the starlight/Meet me tomorrow night, or any day you want." The spacy, trancelike "New Year's Prayer" dissolves into a chant -- "Fall in love, fall in love, fall in love"[ed. "light," not love"] -- marked out by percussion that sounds like the rapping of dried bones, primal and elegant.

The most stunning of all may be "I Know We Could Be So Happy Baby (If We Wanted To Be)," one of the home four-track recordings. Its backbone is a slow, chugging, rubbery rhythm, like the sound of a heartbeat magnified through a pillow. Buckley surveys the mangled train wreck of a relationship gone wrong and salvages, with plenty of sorrow but no bitterness, the things of lasting beauty and value. "Not with you but of you," he says of himself. It's a nascent, miniature curlicue of a thought that turns desperation into a fact of the everyday, the kind of thing that could creep up on a man as he surveys himself in the bathroom mirror during his morning shave.

Buckley's romantic intensity, and the occasionally almost impossible purity of his voice (I used to be very aware that he was the son of '70s folk singer Tim Buckley; throughout Sketches I hardly thought of it at all), took their toll on me by the end of Sketches. I'm grateful the CD ends -- apparently, at his mother's request -- with a solo radio recording of Porter Wagoner's hit "Satisfied Mind" that cools like a salve. Buckley plays the notes wrecked and bent and bluesy; he clears his throat before he sings. When he gets to the words "One thing's for certain/When it comes my time/I'll leave this old world with a satisfied mind," it's like a benediction not for him but for us. And by the time the song ends (with a last, lonely guitar plink -- a stray, like a feather), I've gotten over my disappointment that he died before he got to make the great album he could have. I think I actually feel relieved I don't love Sketches more than I do. He's already broken my heart as it is.

Rip It Up Magazine, Australia
Jeff Buckley - by Angela Chiew

("...the voice within the voice, the sound within the sound...")

"I don't write my music for Sony. I write it for the people who are screaming down the road crying to a full blast stereo. There is also music I'll make that will never-ever-ever be for sale. This is my music alone, this is my true home; from which all things are born and from which all my life will spring untainted and unworried, fully of my own body."

Known to be notoriously precious about his music, one wonders if Jeff Buckley is looking down upon the thousands of people with copies of Sketches (For My Sweetheart The Drunk), and cringing.

I read these private thoughts taken from personal notebooks, now displayed for the entire world to see, and listen to the bare, home-recorded demos, and feel like a complete intruder. Like I have been caught hiding in a closet reading his diary. Or, as one fan likened it, that I have walked in on Buckley in the bathroom.

More disturbing are the depictions of Buckley as just another ill-fated tormented artist. Some have stopped short of calling his death-by-drowning suicide. His is a story much too easy to romanticise: a voice as sweet and pleasing to the ear as his image was to the eye; songs of love forlorn; an artist with a musical map in his lineage, who battled memories of a complicated past and released but a single album in his short-lived career, before drifting away from this world in the murky waters of the Mississippi.

Similarly, his story is far too easy to twist: haunting confessive songs; an estranged father who too was an artist short of his prime when taken by a drug overdose like so many artists of the 70's era - of course adding fuel to the sparked rumours that Buckley too had a drug problem (something feverously but quite sincerely denied by his closest friends and relatives).

On stage in his only Adelaide show in February 1996, he was untouchable. We watched him transform as he mesmerised and seduced us. Brought us into his world as he bared his soul, with that celestial voice, his magical guitarness, and of course that divine poetry. He was an artist in its purest form.

Grace was about passion. Your greatest fears. Your darkest secrets. It was about being human - the grief and joy. The most poignant moments were whispered, like voices in your head speaking aloud. If Grace was used as the single reference point by which to judge this musician you would have only one aspect of the man. It indicates the contemplative, languid and often nostalgic side of Buckley, but the person many of his friends knew was far from this.

He was a curious character: profoundly pensive one moment - charismatic, eyes glinting and grinning the next. At last year's public memorial service held at the venue of Buckley's infamous debut, St Anne's Church in New York, close personal friend Susan Feldman said, "He can't be captured in print or in words, because whatever is said is a reduction. He was more. Bigger, greater, funnier, wilder, crazier, more beautiful."

For those who knew, met or saw him in concert, he will be remembered far more for his hilarity than solemnity. His endless impersonations and embarrassing anecdotes. His hysterical fits of laughter. His spontaneity.

On their recent tour, I spoke to Nathan Larson of Shudder To Think, one of Buckley's favourite bands. A close friend, Buckley had toured on bass with Larson's side band Mind Science of the Mind (including The Dambuilder's Kevin March and Joan Wasser). Larson: "I remember meeting him first at The 9.30 Club at one of our shows. He was really drunk and he looked beautiful, he was wearing this really weird, black toreador shirt. I knew he was Tim Buckley's son but beyond that I didn't know he was a singer really. I thought he was too good looking to be talented, so I sort of blew him off - I thought, "You're a freak! You're too hot to possibly be that good!"

"Whenever you have a strong person in your life and they do what you do, and are as talented as that, it's always such a struggle to feel worthy. (Sigh) He was ... the best."

he was also a perfectionist, perpetuating debate over the posthumous release since the time of the accident. leaving no will, buckley's estate fell entirely into the hands of his mother mary guibert. no matter what your feelings towards this album, it was the most difficult situation to be in, and despite what decision guibert reached in regards to the release or non-release of any of her son's material, there were bound to be a few unhappy faces. who knows buckley's true musical intentions? his charm was his unpredictability and the incessant evolution of his songs. given the ultimatum of no new material heard ever or sketches... , i dare say most of us would choose the latter.

disc One, the Tom Verlaine sessions as mastered by Grace producer Andy Wallace, are arguably the best results possible given the circumstances. But band members, friends and work colleagues have insisted since very early on that Buckley intended the tapes be destroyed in a planned "burning session" when the band arrived in Memphis. Buckley's attorney and manager George Stein admitted to NME magazine the Verlaine sessions were never intended to be the actual finished product, they were merely experimental sessions, but in the end he was not satisfied. Buckley had decided months before his death that he wanted to re-record these from scratch.

Anticipation following Grace was immense and the long break between records had intensified the pressure. Despite media gossip of 'burning out' after vigorous world touring, Buckley had plunged into numerous side projects with Patti Smith, Mind Science of the Mind, Shudder To Think's soundtrack for First Love, Last Rites (out in August), and tribute albums to Jack Kerouac (Kicks Joy Darkness) and Edgar Allan Poe (Closed on Account of Rabies).

He was a prolific writer but the press who continued to herald the prominence of Grace failed to recognise the new material being experimented with live. The Sky Is a Landfill was heard as early as the '95 Bataclan show in Paris. In December, NY radio show Idiot's Delight had Buckley play the intoxicating Woke Up In A Strange Place , later heard on the Australian Hard Luck Tour along with Mood Swing Whiskey, an early instrumental version of Vancouver, Edna Frau sung by bassist Mick Grondahl, Tongue (So Real B-side), and a gorgeous untitled song with the refrain "all flowers in time, bend towards the sun". Home in NYC a faster version of New Year's Prayer was performed at New Year's Eve shows at Mercury Lounge and Sin-e, where he returned in September 1996 with Morning Theft. Buckley continued roadtesting, including The Nymph's Yard of Blonde Girls on his "phantom solo tour" playing under mischievous aliases such as Possessed by Elves, Martha and the Nicotines, and Topless America. Buckley missed his life as an anonymous performer away from the infinite intrigue and expectations he felt were premature.

He played some official shows in early '97, solo and with band (drummer Parker Kindred now replacing Matt Johnson who played his last show at Sydney's Selina's bar) and along with Grace favourites performed mostly new songs including Nightmares By The Sea, Witches' Rave and Haven't You Heard?

They recorded sporadically with ex-Television guitarist Tom Verlaine on controls in NYC and Memphis until Buckley sent the band home while he continued to work on four-tracks and demos (some featuring on Disc Two). Word of Buckley's regular Monday night shows at the small Barristers' bar spread quickly across the internet and one fan even flew in from England to see him. One set included the freshly written Jewel Box, perhaps one of the more completed demos released.

Some of the material released on Disc Two had not yet even been heard by the band at the time of Buckley's death. The rawness and sparsity of many of these songs will challenge even the most open-minded fans. Perhaps because it was this music he made for himself alone. The lyrics of Murder Suicide Meteor Slave are alarmingly baring even by Buckley's standards.

But if something positive has come of this release it has been to somewhat fill the void left when Buckley vanished. To give us glimpses of the brilliance yet to unfold, tragic as they are. To let us hear the Buckley who played like a kid on the pitch controller, flirted with eighties cock-rock and made it sexy and unleashed his brazen punk lust.

The Jeff Buckley I remember is one who took energy from all around him, encapsulated it in a sound, drew me in and taught me to "stand absolved" and unashamed of being human.

Rolling Stone # 787 - 30th Anniversary Issue
Grace Under Pressure - by David Fricke ****

Sketches (For My Sweetheart, The Drunk)

They run through this collection like a string of loosely buried land mines, images and aphorisms with the prescient sting of epitaph: "This way of life is so devised/To snuff out the mind that moves" ("The Sky is A Landfill"); "I am a railroad track abandoned" ("Opened Once"); "I'm not with you/Not of you" [ed. It's actually "but of you", but I digress.] ("I Know We Could Be So Happy Baby [If We Wanted To Be]"). But Jeff Buckley's death by drowning, a year ago this month in Memphis, was a tragic accident, and the few finished records that he left behind - the 1993 Live at Sin-É, the 1994 album Grace - were about finding a passage through darkness, into light. His lyrics and the convulsive operatic dynamics of his singing were thrilling evocations of long black shadows exploding into daybreak.

A restless, demanding spirit, Buckley had an almost pathological aversion to pop convention; he craved both immaculate perfection and naked revelation in his music. Which may explain Buckley's alleged dissatisfaction with his first stab at recording what was to be his second album, Sketches (For My Sweetheart, The Drunk). There is a slight, studio-bound formalism to the '96 and early '97 Sketches tracks, produced by Television guitarist Tom Verlaine. "Vancouver", for all of its old-school-medieval-Byrds allure and the old-school-Prince lover letter "Everybody Here Wants You" fall a few yards shy of transcendent.

But there is also explosive garage-rock-theater here - the barking vocal rage and twisted metal guitars in "The Sky is A Landfill" - and breathtaking change-ups of melody and mood, like "Witches' Rave," a jolt of black-magic power pop, and "Opened Once," with its silken, suspended chords and the shivering enunciation in Buckley's voice. "You & I" is just Buckley singing in free fall, but his prayers and regrets rebound through the cathedral echo with compelling despair. If Buckley felt the Verlaine material was not definitive work, it was only a near miss.

Crude and inconclusive, the four-track demos on Disc Two, recorded by Buckley alone in Memphis just before his death, reveal little about his revised plans for that second album. "Murder Suicide Meteor Slave" is deafening, nutty, out of tune - splatter-guitar painting, straight from the id. "Your Flesh Is So Nice" sounds like Pavement's idea of Sparks covering Kiss. But the flashes of inspiration are blinding: the demonic, scarred guitar ingenuity of "Back In N.Y.C.," a Genesis (!) cover; the raw fragility of "Jewel Box"; the vulnerability of Buckley's voice amid the tidal guitars in "I Know We Could be So Happy Baby(If We Wanted To Be)".

Sketches ends with an odd leap back to 1992 and a live radio reading of Porter Wagoner's 1955 country hit "Satisfied Mind." But Buckley gives a performance of sublime purity and contentment that illuminates the heart and purpose of Sketches. This is not the album Buckley intended for release, but a record of his best intentions.

The Onion 28 - May-3 June 1998
Rough Sketches - by Stephen Thompson

About a year ago, 30-year-old singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley impulsively and inexplicably took a swim in the filthy waters of the the Wolf River in Memphis, only to be swept away by an unseen current; his body was found days later. One of the cruelest ironies surrounding Buckley's drowning--beyond the fact that he died at roughly the same age as his absentee father Tim Buckley, with whom he shared similarly good looks and a similarly stunning voice-- is that he died literally the night befor he was to begin recording a long-awaited second studio release. Unlike his father, who had recorded nine studio albums, Jeff Buckley had made only one, 1994's brilliant Grace. Fortunately, Buckley did quite a bit of recording between Grace's completion and his death, and had actually completed an album with which he and his record company were reportedly displeased. The two-disc Sketches (For My Sweetheart, The Drunk) attempts to fill in the gap, making available the scrapped album and the most releaseable demos Buckley made in preparation for what he would have recorded in Memphis last summer. The results are, obviously, frustratingly incomplete, but mostly remarkable. The second disc is a hit-or-miss collection of scraps, but the first is full of revelations, despite Buckley's apparent dissatisfaction: The first track "The Sky is A Landfill" seethes with his inimitable flair for epic drama, as does the slower, more haunting, nearly a capella "You & I." " Everybody Here Wants You" is a gorgeous, Prince-Style slow jam the likes of which fans have never heard from Buckley.

"Morning Theft" illustrates the way he could pull off romantic, melodramatic lyrics ("You're a woman/ I'm a calf / You're a window / I'm a knife / We come together making chance into starlight") without sounding silly; the track is perhaps the best here. While the first disc is almost as accessible to neophytes as Grace, the second is mostly for Buckley's most faithful fans: For every mesmerizing recording like his eerie, heart-breaking, album-closing cover of "Satisfied Mind" (popularized by Porter Wagoner and recorded for radio broadcast in 1992), there are at least one or two wanky, unfinished goofs like "Murder Suicide Meteor Slave," the overlong cover of Genesis' prog-rocker "Back In N.Y.C.," and the amorous/ creepy "Your Flesh Is So Nice." Even marvelous ballads like "I Know We Could Be So Happy Baby (If We Wanted To Be)" are marred by demo-quality sound, though "Jewel Box" rises above that flaw to stand among the best material on either set. The incompleteness of Sketches (For My Sweetheart The Drunk) is to be expected, but it never keeps the collection from being absolutely essential.

Juice Magazine - May, 1998
Voice From Heaven - by Simon Wooldridge

Jeff Buckley's posthumous album accentuates the loss.
The first question here is whether Buckley -- who drowned accidentally the day before he was due to begin sessions which were supposed to replace much of this music -- would have wanted these incomplete songs to ever be aired in public. Could this be a cash-in Buckley would have preferred left untapped?

From the opening strains of first song "The Sky Is A Landfill," those issues of percieved exploitation fade to insignificance. This is the sound of Jeff Buckley working on another level, an advance on the work on his painstaking debut album Grace that could well have established him as the major talent his early recordings suggested. "The Sky..." alone is something of a wonder -- a free-from arrangement driven by a new edge (the ghost of Buckley's beloved Led Zeppelin looms large over these recording) that somehow tastefully approaches hard guitar rock, while remaining roots-based and organic.

This song -- like much of this double album -- is defined beautifully by a simplicity that we could hardly have expected of Buckley, who tended towards the musically showy. Where Grace was somewhat weighed down by its own instrumentation, these songs are often the simplest of band sounds. Two guitars, a bass, drums, and a voice made for a more tasteful and powerful combination than Buckley may have realised.

The first CD is a solid, ten-track album which sees Buckley exploring new territory with every song. "Everybody Here Wants You" is sublime, slow soul, achingly good in its delivery. There's an echoing chord here, some distant feedback there, a touch of strings. When Buckley harmonises with himself, all those angel references resurface. "Witches' Rave" is cute, sultry pop with a complex playful arrangement. "Morning Theft" is a stunning work in progress, "Yard of Blonde Girls" a grinding, piece of guitar rock. With the dark "Nightmares By the Sea" and the experimentalism of "You & I," it may not be the album Buckley intended, but it's excellent nonetheless.

The second album comprises 4-track and live recordings of songs in construction, included because they better indicated the directions he was taking. "I Know We Could Be So Happy Baby (If We Wanted To Be)" and his cover of Genesis' "Back In New York City" are complex 4-track recordings which exemplify both the limits of demos and the creative effort that Buckley put into even these private drafts, "Murder Suicide Meteor Slave" is darker for all its heap discordance and slap-dash delivery, while "Jewel Box," and "Satisfied Mind" -- both simple guitar and voice -- reflect Buckley's love of Leonard Cohen and Hank Williams.

If there are reservations, it's that Buckley's passion can blur into overcooked earnestness. The modal Ledzep-isms on "New Years Prayer" are a little cliched. Hs lyrics have a cringe factor that usually accompanies unselfconscious expression and Robert Plant fans. Would Buckley have edited rhymes like, "We fly right over the minds of so many in pain / We are the smile of light that brings them rain?" "Your Flesh Is So Nice" sounds like 15-year-old Wayne's World metal. Regardless, those behind this album have done the right thing. Buckley will be missed all the more sorely.

SPIN Online - May, 1998
by Marc Spitz

As I prepared to write this review, I glanced at my calendar and realized that Jeff Buckley drowned in the Mississippi River exactly one year ago on May 29, 1997. I've been preparing to review this record for a few weeks. I might have turned it in last week, yesterday, Monday. I hardly ever know the date. This coincidence kind of freaks me out. Those of us who lived in lower Manhattan in the early '90s were especially shaken by Buckley's death because the guy was so available; he was as indigenous to St. Marks Place or Ludlow St. as the dime bag vendors, squatter punks, and mad painters. Later, after the release of Live at Sin-É and Grace, you couldn't walk into a bar below 14th Street without hearing the shimmer of " Last Goodbye" or, later in the evening, the gorgeous cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

He was everywhere with that unique voice -- an instrument of infuriating pretentiousness, and then, suddenly, like the drink that puts you over the limit, somehow perfect. Then, on a hot day in late Spring, a day like today, Jeff Buckley was nowhere. Nothing.

Now he's back with the kind of legend you can't buy and twenty posthumous tracks you can.

SKETCHES (For My Sweetheart, the Drunk), the follow-up to Buckley's '94 studio debut, the now-legendary Grace, was unplanned as well. By now, the procedure, how it was pieced together with care from Tom Verlaine-produced studio sessions and home-made 4-track demos by Buckley's trusted survivors (his mother, Mary Guibert, ex-Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell, Grace producer Andy Wallace, etc.) is well known.

Reviewing this album as a homogenous body of work or even a product for unit shifting would be patently unfair and almost cruel since the entire package wears it's otherness (as well as its labor of love vibes) so nakedly. This is not a pop record (or even a tribute to Buckley) so much as it's a balm, a fix for fans jonesing to hear that voice again (in any context).

The vultures, looking for Cobain gun-lyrics and "the Walrus was Paul"-style clues should stick with the "pull me under, pull me under" and "this body will never be safe from harm" doom omens of Grace -- they're in abundance. The skeptical, who are faced with a slew of new releases and their obligatory hype-engines should read the next paragraph.

On Disc one, the multi-tracked, fully produced half of SKETCHES, Buckley is half poet rocker ("Witches' Rave") and half Al Green soul man ("Everybody Here Wants You"); both guises are credibly adopted. Dramatic, unsettling guitar chunks (unlike the smooth, dreamy " Lilac Wine"-sprawl of Grace) and lyrics spit with more anger and bitterness than his previous work abound within both poses. On "Yard of Blonde Girls," a Slider-era T. Rex boogie, Buckley mocks allure -- perhaps his own street heartthrob rep - with: "Very sexy. Very sexy. Okay. Okay."

This might be projecting (or cheating since it's now public knowledge that Buckley wasn't completely happy with the Verlaine sessions), but the listener can feel struggle here with every note and chord. While still an interesting listen, Buckley's frustration is airborne and infecting. The jaded, misanthropy of "The Sky Is A Landfill" and "Nightmares by the Sea" leave you hollow even as that voice fills and nourishes. Somebody, a woman, maybe, did him up not too cool. For every love song here, there's a pair of "f**k you" hymns and as this is not his Berlin it can be repetitive.

Disk two, the skeletal, metronomic blue-print for a post-Verlaine album that never was, is an entirely different sonic experience. It's darker but the ventilation is better. You can hear Buckley getting there (and if you're at peace now with the fact that he never arrived, it's an even more exhilarating listen). " I Know We Could Be So Happy Baby (If We Wanted to Be)" is spare and ghostly without entering the dread realm of funkless spoken-word. The cover of Genesis's "Back in New York City" is further evidence of Buckley's often overlooked humor (and balls). The cheerful, album coda, the acoustic, bluesy "Satisfied Mind" may have been placed deliberately but it works, even heals.

As a fan, I'd like to picture Buckley singing "Satisfied Mind" as he left. If it didn't bring closure to his life, at least it provides some sense of peace here, on his tumultuous and final artistic work. It's a mortal coil shuffle, like the Stones' "Moonlight Mile" or Tom Waits's "Anywhere I Lay My Head." I'll remember Buckley doing a decent Marlon Brando impression as I sold him a biography at the indie bookstore I used to toil in. He was funny. Fans who want something to cherish should grab SKETCHES, but be warned, it's not nearly as light as his clowing imitation.

Raygun - May, 1998
by Aidin Vaziri

There is a smog-covered wasteland of tract houses and strip malls in the Southern California desert known as the Inland Empire. It's an undistinguished, oppressive stretch of land that is anything but conducive to self-expression. Its inhabitants either fall into anonymous office jobs and spend the rest of their lives commuting back and forth to Los Angeles on congested freeways, or they wind up strung-out on speed andcrack, bussing tables at the local Sizzler and living in a nearby trailer park.

This is where Jeff Buckley and I spent, and somehow survived, our formative years. During one of our conversations after the release of his debut album, Grace, we sat around and contemplated the incredible odds we had beat to break out of the cycle. In both cases music was our savior. It allowed us to rise above the morass of indifference and see a better way.

"From womb to tomb, it's thug country," Buckley lamented about those early environs. "People grow up repressed from the spirit, day by day. It's misogyny, it's birth, death, work. It's misery."

He then confided, "Music is the only thing I got. It's the only thing that's been really great to me all the time."

In life and in his music, Buckley made it a habit to rail against the system. Rather than submitting to the drab orthodoxy of contemporary rock, he aspired to capture glittery dreams and black magic in his songs. His voice swooned and soared, his guitars vibrated delicately and rushed with rage. His music truly was like no other.

It's difficult to express the heartbreak I felt when Buckley drowned in the Mississippi River during a moonlight swim last May. Not only was he an extraordinary person, but I believe him to be one of the few genuine musical talents of my generation.

This sentiment is compounded by listening to his recorded remainders on the two-disc Sketches (For My Sweetheart, The Drunk). Buckley's songs -- dark, brooding, full of bared emotion -- have a power all their own. They creep into your life and are impossible to shake, for each one holds so much relevance and resonates so much truth.

Buckley was unrelenting in his pursuit to divulge the secrets of the heart. His songs are sprinkled with vibrant images of love, lust and, most hauntingly, death. Musically, he coalesced his fondness of soul, jazz and classic rock into a trembling, poetic noise. It's hard to dismiss the intensity of the gospel-tinged "Everybody Here Wants You," the poignant "Opened Once" or the anxious "Witches' Rave," on which he hopelessly sings, "Am I cursed or am I blessed, I can't tell."

Despite early claims to the contrary, these are fully-formed living and breathing songs. On the four-track recordings that make up the second half of this collection, Buckley further reveals his ability to make music that is wholly engaging, even in a less-formed state.

"Haven't You Heard" pairs furious electric guitars with a soaring verse. The desperate, frustrated "Your Flesh Is So Nice" reveals a punk streak. And the hushed, blues-tinged lullabye that is "Satisfied Mind" closes the set with ghostly serenity, as Buckley sings, "My life is over and my time has run out."

It's impossible to not feel a choking swell of sadness while listening to these recordings. But one thing Buckley learned during those years stuck in the middle of nowhere was that good music like this can make all your problems disappear.

Addicted to Noise Online Magazine
Goodbye And Hello: Sketches Of Jeff Buckley - by Johnny Walker

I feel very fortunate that I got to see Jeff Buckley three times during his short but brilliant career. The first was live in a small Toronto blues club only a short time after he'd put together the band that would eventually record his only "proper" studio album, Grace. This was long before the pressures of "sudden stardom" had found him (the reality was that he was already in his late 20s and had been busking around NYC for some time), a time when he and the band were thinking of nothing but the music and getting it all down right -- the performance, from the time Jeff opened his mouth to commence the long, ululating opening to "Mojo Pin" onwards, was one of the most intense and amazing shows I've ever seen, the kind that stays with you long after the impressions of so much other mediocre dreck you foolishly had hopes for has faded away. I've often likened that experience of mine to what others must have felt when seeing geniuses like Miles Davis or Marvin Gaye or Jeff's father, Tim Buckley, at the outset of their careers: the effect was totally electrifying, going far beyond the realm of mere "entertainment."

The next two times I saw Jeff he was never less than excellent, but it already seemed as if the pressures on him -- with an album that started slow but that soon began to gather a major head of sales steam -- were beginning to take their toll. Amazingly enough, though, he managed to continue to orchestrate his own unique brand of magic -- as when he transformed an in-store appearance at HMV Records into nirvana, and again when he played a show in a local church. At the church he appeared ragged and liquored-up, both tired and energized from doing battle with the audience's expectations, which, in the end, he ended up satisfying. Still, he was struggling with the ghost of a long-dead father who, although he'd abandoned his son, also bequeathed him an amazing set of multi-octave pipes. Jeff seemed resentful, and slightly suspicious that the now-much-larger audience was there in part to hear him conjure Tim, when the fact of the matter was that he was already far more popular than his obscure father had ever been.

I started to have premonitions at that show -- the last time I ever saw Jeff -- that the singer was somehow too fragile to last in the garish world of popular culture. He'd also inherited his father's tendency to deep, dark depression, as well as Tim's existential attitude of the artist at war with a crass bourgeois society. Grace was in fact a black album that contained allusions to the singer's ultimate underwater demise (in "Dream Brother"). And although he often professed to hate them (even though Jeff was a great deal more familiar with his father's back catalogue than he'd ever been able to admit in public), the only valid artistic comparisons one can make to the work of a singular artist such as Jeff Buckley is to the only other "rock" singer who possessed such an amazing voice: Tim Buckley. This too is Jeff's fate.

Of course, by the time he died of an overdose, Tim Buckley had managed a whole career in slightly less time than it would take for Jeff to release an album and EP (Live At Sin-É), and drown in the Mississippi river. Throughout his career, Tim was known for artistic restlessness. The aptly-titled Sketches (For My Sweetheart, The Drunk) highlights that same dilemma in the work of his son -- if the Apollonian, pristine sound of Grace was Jeff's version of Tim's similar Goodbye & Hello, then it seems that Jeff had now jumped a few Buckley albums ahead to offer an amalgamated version of the old man's challenging avant- jazz Starsailor and his raunchy funk-rocking Greetings From L.A.. Jeff, of course, growing up in a different age, filters his artistic sensibility through Led Zeppelin and '80s gloom-rock stalwarts like The Cure and The Smiths, rather than the more jazz- and folk-oriented '60s influences of his father.

"He inherited his father's attitude of the artist at war with a crass bourgeois society."

So never mind Evander Holyfield: disc one here is the real deal. Stemming from sessions with Television guitarist Tom Verlaine, these tracks are pretty much completed, and hold together well as an album. The first song, "The Sky Is A Landfill," is a careening Zeppelin-by-way-of- Killing Joke riff-rocker, which is arguably Buckley's finest moment both musically and lyrically, featuring many a riveting image as Jeff posits Dionysian rebellion as the final refutation to a soul-crushing corporate world where lives are bought and sold like so much "product." A striking apocalyptic millennial vision of "a garbage dump of souls that will now black the sky" is conjured; "We'll share our bodies in disdain for the system" Buckley spits in defiance. Added chills are provided by the singer's overt reference to himself in the past tense: "I had no fear of this machine" he screams, just before offering up a blistering guitar break that underscores the sentiment.

The rest of the first disc lives up to the promise of this instant classic. "Everybody Here Wants You" sees Jeff moving into the white-soul genre of latter-day Tim; the former Buckley, however, is more comfortable in the higher registers, and here offers up a truly convincing approximation of Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye Motown with a falsetto that would make Mick Jagger turn green with envy. Again, we have what now sound like foreshadowings of Jeff's fate: "I'm only here for this moment," he coos to the object of his affections with an eerie certainty. "Witches Rave," meanwhile, swings with a breezy, jazzy gait, yet maintains a rock edge, while "Morning Theft" returns to the fragile emotive terrain of Grace, as Buckley, in his sweetest voice, mourns the end of a relationship, cynically wondering if his ex-partner views him as "some fool drama queen whose chances were few." The hallucinatory "New Year's Prayer" is part reggae, part Persian snake-charmer music, with Buckley's slithery voice appropriately winding in and out of the proceedings.

The second half of the first disc is where the set's surprises really lie: "Vancouver" and the Cure-ish "Nightmares By The Sea," with its hauntingly premonitory line "stay with me under these waves tonight" -- feature chiming guitars and neo-gothic atmospheres, betraying Buckley's aforementioned love for '80s alt-rock. "Yard Of Blonde Girls," meanwhile, sounds like a glam-trashy amalgam of T. Rex and Smashing Pumpkins, while "You & I" is JB stripped to the bone, his forlorn, ululating voice melodically drifting against a funereal, medieval-ish background. Along with the more standard emotive Buckley ballad, "Opened Once," these tracks combine to broaden the scope of who Jeff Buckley was musically. There are no record company-picked tracks like classical composer Benjamin Britten's "Corpus Christi Carol" (from Grace) here to highlight Jeff's "angelic" voice; instead, we have Buckley the rocker getting his hands -- among other appendages -- dirty, revelling in his "low," Dionysian influences a la Dad on Greetings From L.A.

Disc 2 of this set is more problematic, as much of it consists of more experimental work Buckley was messing with in the studio, much of which I'm sure was never intended for public consumption. Some tracks, like "Murder Suicide Meteor Slave" and "Back In New York City" (a Genesis cover!) show JB's heretofore submerged penchant for Starsailor's avant far-outness, while the last tracks he'd worked on alone in the studio, such as "Demon John" and "Your Flesh Is So Nice," alternatively find him moving in an even more extreme direction toward stripped down 'n' dirty, unabashedly carnal rock, i.e. Papa Tim on "Honeyman." The set's closer, a placid blues cover of "Satisfied Mind>," however, is a nice touch: just Jeff on guitar and voice, singing the blues with a feel few white boys have ever possessed, voicing a sentiment that we can now only hope he found authentic.

A more accurate rating of Sketches would be: five stars for disc one; three stars for disc two; judged strictly on its own merits, disc one is album-of- the-year material. In contrast to Grace -- which, while a fine debut, is also a bit too clean, too polished, too Apollonian -- Sketches ...' raw edges and more wholly human feel should hold up to the test of time, just as Greetings From L.A. still sounds hot today. Goodbye & Hello is more like an admirable period piece.

Jeff Buckley fans now await the promised release of in-concert material that might more fully flesh out the oeuvre of this artist whose time was so long in coming, and so terribly short in duration.

The Commercial Appeal - Memphis - Saturday, May 30th
Sketches (for My Sweetheart the Drunk) - Jeff Buckley - ***1/2 (out of 4) - by Bill Ellis

What to make of a life half lived? Jeff Buckley's final recording "Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk," doesn't offer answers, but it gives an arresting glimpse into one of the most musically fecund minds of the 90's. Buckley, who drowned at age 30 last year in the Memphis Harbour near Mud Island, wouldn't have approved this two-CD release of rejected studio tracks and various demos he was writing from his Midtown home at the time of his death. Fans, however, will cherish every note.

Buckley's voice and song-writing were a rarified experience, and transcendent moments abound. Like his two prior albums "Live at Sin-É" and "Grace," "Sketches" has a stylistic palette that blazes with a head full of contradictions and an ear full of art.

There's the unlikely mix of low-fi and prog rock in The Sky is a Landfill and a cover of Genesis's Back in N.Y.C.; bits of Middle Eastern mysticism in the qawwali--inspired You & I; the cabaret-tinged Morning Theft; and an impassioned reading of the Porter Wagoner hit Satisfied Mind.

Buckley's lyrics, barbed with emotional turmoil and uncertainty, are often painful to hear. "Someone has to pay for the damage done/No one's gonna love you now," he sings on Murder Suicide Meteor Slave, a noisy demo that hits the heart like a paper shredder. And the foreshadowing of Nightmares by the Sea is downright freaky.

Yet Buckley was finding a way to balance his musical extremes and even sprinkle them with mainstream credibility. Everybody Here Wants You looks to the Philly and Hi soul of the 70's. At the same time, Buckley was turning more ambitious: The Muslim-crafted melody of New Year's Prayer is backed by droning, staccato rhythms that rival the world music appropriations of Peter Gabriel. future CD's of unreleased material are promised, including concerts where Buckley, a constant improvise, was most in his element. Who's to say Buckley's light won't burn brighter in death? His spiritual tug of war somehow demands it.

CMJ New Music Monthly - June '98
Jeff Buckley - Sketches (For My Sweetheart The Drunk) - by Chris Molanphy

Jeff Buckley met a fate eerily similar to his father's, dying young under tragic circumstances. But unlike '70s singer-songwriter Tim Buckley, whose stature was well confirmed before his death, son Jeff did not complete enough work by which to fairly measure his gifts. There is that voice -- that soaring, howling, undeniably moving instrument Jeff inherited from his dad. His voice resonates throughout Sketches, a two-disc collection of songs and demos Jeff was working on (under the title For My Sweetheart The Drunk), before he drowned in Memphis lst May. Sadly, though, Sketches is accurately titled. As on Buckley's 1994 album Grace, Sketches shows an artist equally capable of heavenly hymns and ponderous rock, making it hard to pinpoint his musical legacy. In "Yard of Blonde Girls," Buckley all but impersonates Alice in Chains' Layne Staley, trying to reconcile his misguided love for cock-rock with his quivery voice and his odd sense of humor. Doubly frustrating are the demos, the crudest of which are on disc two. Still, anyone stirred by Buckley's voice will be moved by much of disc one, especially the sexy slow jam "Everybody Here Wants You," which awaits your next boudoir mix tape, and the a cappella "You & I," which sounds like Buckley's cry from beyond.

Request magazine - June issue
by: Natasha Stovall

At the time of his drowning death on May 29, 1997, New York singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley had yet to decide what to do with the mountains of tape he had recorded for the follow-up to his debut, Grace. His friends and family culled the most complete take of his work, which comprise the two-volume SKETCHES (for my sweetheart, the drunk).

SKETCHES is appropriately uneven--overlong and downright dreadful in places--but repeated listens reward the listener with a thread of true genius. Under the direction of producer Tom Verlaine, Buckley was working a vein considerably more soulful than Grace's cooly conscribed confessions. "Everybody Here Wants You" casts Buckley as an aching Muscle Shoals Don Juan, while "Witches' Rave" and "Yard of Blonde Girls" use grungily crashing power chords and jittery backbeats to channel hot-blooded desire. If Buckley had anchored SKETCHES with songs like those, he would have made a stellar album, but there were other ideas on his mind, like the endless abstract pounding of "Murder Suicide Meteor Slave." Buckley's heirs chose to open the doors on his creative process rather than present an artificial "finished" album; as an artist, he's better memorialized by it. For fans, it means you don't stray too far from the "skip" button.

Philadelphia Inquirer From the late singer, complex 'Sketches' - by Tom Moon

Jeff Buckley, the singer-songwriter who drowned in a Memphis, Tenn., harbor last May, was an old soul.

He sang Edith Piaf and cought the ache just right. He called one of his music publishing companies El Viejito ("the little old man") Music, and its catalog contained songs that were heavy with the weight of the world.

At the same time, Buckley - who died at age 30, after issuing just one album, the 1994 Grace - was the quintessential brash young artist. Prone to long- winded phrases and purple prose, he wrote with feverish intensity, as if to bludgeon listeners until they shared every ounce of his grandiose passion.

Those alternating currents converge powerfully on "Everybody Here Wants You," one of the highlights of Sketches (For My Sweetheart the Drunk) (Columbia *** out of four), a collection of songs and fragments Buckley was working on when he died. The two-disc set arrives in stores Tuesday.

The sultry, medium-tempo "Everybody" starts as a conventional "choose me" ode to a wandering lover. Aware that the woman he longs for has the attention of every man in the room, he's a touch jealous. After he's marveled at her charms ("coffee smell and lilac skin"), he pleads, "I know they all look so good from a distance, but I tell you I'm the one."

For all his poetic anguish, Buckley never sounds desperate. He sings this entreaty with the poise of a soul veteran - his is a classic Al Green tak-me- back-baby, offered up in angelic falsetto. He never loses his dignity. His restrained delivery, which harks back to a cooler era of popular music, makes the lyrics poignant.

That was Buckley: one minute consumed by desire, the next abruptly stoic, the old soul who knew better than to shout his high hopes. He was one of the few contemporary songwriters to let a complex, even conflicted, point of view seep into his work. A mystic surrounded by realists, he insisted that important revelations lurked behind the bawdiest three-cord rock and roll, and he used his voice, a sinuous, serpentine instrument that recalls early Robert Plant, to tease those insights out.

This dedication to a higher knowledge was one reason Buckley's loss was mourned. Listening to Grace and Sketches is like following a spirit quest, an epic journey dedicated to sorting through emotional responses in pursuit of something important about the soul. He rejected grunge-era self-absorption and the squirm-inducing modes of confessional songwriting. Instead he courted the romantic, with florid fantasy worlds and allegories that might have been inspired by Hermann Hesse. Celebrated the conflicts between head and heart. Examined the ways instinct is often canceled out by intellect.

Buckley was prey to some of the same torments as his estranged father, the seminal folk singer Tim Buckley, who died of a drug overdose when his son was 8. But Jeff Buckley let the struggles inform his work more than his father did; the resulting songs became little psychodramas. Loosely centered on the search for identity, they were sprawling, ambitious pieces that started in one area code and finished in another. They tackled subjects Buckley considered vital, including the intoxicating power of love and the importance of trust in a culture overrun with suspicion. He was also capable of more straightforward expression: One of the most illuminating moments on Sketches is the brooding, almost bereft "Morning Theft", about the loss of a friend.

Buckley recognized the polarities within his personality, and depended on them to provide his songs with tension. Sometimes he played the young seeker against the wise man: "Nightmares by the Sea", one of the most overt rock songs on Sketches, opens with the caution "Beware the bottled thoughts of angry young men" and suggests a heated exchange between eras and ideologies. On other compositions, he sought to reconcile impulsive naivete with calm wisdom: On the reverb-heavy ritual chant "New Year's Prayer," one of several selctions influenced by the late qawwali master Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Buckley grants himself absolution as he repeats the phrase "Feel no shame for what you are."

Sketches contains 16 new Buckley compostions, but it's most certainly not the record he would have made. It is, instead, a work in progress, an assortment of skectches and ideas that was tragically interrupted. Compiled by his mother, Mary Guibert, with the help of her son's friend, former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell, it hints of potential that won't be realized, melodies never fully developed.

It is the framework of a masterpiece. The first disc is devoted to recordings Buckley and his band made with Television guitarist and producer Tom Verlaine in 1996; though the singer considered them demos, the songs were recorded cleanly and contain vocal performances notable for their fiery energy. The second disc consists of rougher stuff: four-track demos Buckley made to teach his band new songs and his approach to the early Genesis compostion "Back in N.Y.C."

There are gems on each. The suitelike " Witches' Rave" walks the thin line between attraction and revulsion Buckley explored on Grace's " Mojo Pin," while the ruminative " The Sky is a Landfill" finds him mourning the numbed-by-TV complacency he sensed in the culture.

Of the four-track works, the straightforward declaration "I Knew We Could Be So Happy Baby (If We Wanted To Be)" and thrashy, Stones-esque "Your Flesh is So Nice" are notable for the yearning and restlessness that electrified Buckley's live performances.

These songs indicate that Buckley took very seriously the task of following up the critically acclaimed Grace. While he was mindful of the cherished elements of rock and roll - as "Your Flesh is So Nice " demonstrates, he was well acquainted with its visceral charms and raw lust - he set out to create music that went beyond the ready cliches.

Determined to expand his repertoire as a composer, he experimented with abrupt shifts in meter and unusual chord sequences to subvert traditional verse-chorus structures. He was equally bent on creating a different kind of vocal persona - the droning "You & I" finds him using improvisation and embellishment techniques taken straight from the incantations of qawwali. "Witches' Rave," by contrast, features floating, ethereal vocals that distantly recall the Beach Boys.

Such devices are not attempts to broaden just for the sake of broadening, or to cover up a lack of original ideas. They're there because these wild-eyed songs demand them. It's impossible to predict what roads the songs would have traveled had Buckley lived, but the rough drafts and home recordings reveal something that a polished collection couldn't: Even in the early throes of inspiration, this old soul had very precise notions about the way the music should sound. And feel.

Entertainment Weekly #434 - May 29,1998
The 'Sketches' Artist - David Browne

-Consisting of demos, remixes, and other unfinished tracks, Jeff Buckley's posthumous second disc is exciting--and unspeakably sad-

Jeff Buckley's second album announces itself with the switched-on surge of a guitar amp, followed by power chords and the tender yearning of his voice. As the first new music we've heard from Buckley since his 1994 debut album Grace, it's a thrilling moment, rife with exhiliration and new beginnings.

It's also impossibly sad. When he leapt into Memphis' Wolf River for an impromptu swim in May 1997, Buckley was about to resume recording his second album, My Sweetheart the Drunk. His tragic drowning changed everything. Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk collects a portion of what he left behind from that work in progress--tapes from sessions (with producer Tom Verlaine) that neither he nor his label found satisfying, as well as later home demos for songs he was never able to record with his band.

The aborted sessions with Verlaine constitute the first of Sketches' two discs. While it's easy to hear why both Buckley and Columbia felt the tracks needed more work, there's no denying the monolithic power and epochal swirl of "The Sky is a Landfill" to the tender hearted warmth of "Morning Theft". Sung in buttery falsetto, "Everybody Here Wants You" drips with Memphis soul and unrequited longing. The second disc is a motley brew of remixes, additional studio sessions (the excitable-boy romp " Haven't You Heard"), and low-fi solo tapes. Whatever torment Buckley was enduring is evident in the operatic angst of "Murder Suicide Meteor Slave," while "I Know We Could Be So Happy Baby (If We Wanted to Be)" rattles and hums with anguished desire.

As with Grace, Sketches is a testament to Buckley's role as a lifelong student of rock history. From the glam-rock raunch of the randy "Your Flesh is So Nice" to a cover of the country ballad " Satisfied Mind," he had the ability to synthesize past and present into an ethereal future. What also unites this assemblage is Buckley's naked passion. Then as now, his music was a welcome antidote to Lollapalooza-era cheekiness.

With its jarring references to ghosts and rivers, Sketches can be spooky. Given the circumstances of Buckley's death, the line "stay with me under these waves tonight"-- from a song called " Nightmares by the Sea" no less--may be one of the most chilling moments ever captured on record. Fortunately, it's offset by the adventurousness and life-affirming qualities of Buckley's music, which is as much a part of his legacy as this incomplete, yet affecting, farewell. [A-]

wall of sound
Jeff Buckley: SKETCHES (for My Sweetheart the Drunk) - by Roberta Penn
On May 29, it will have been one year since anti-folk singer Jeff Buckley drowned near a marina in Memphis, Tenn., where he had gone to work on his new album. His death was a significant loss for pop music because the 30-year-old songwriter had an extraordinary ability to use his voice and his pen to merge soul and cynicism. Ironically, Buckley was carrying on in the tradition of a father, Tim Buckley, he hardly knew, who also died prematurely as the result of an overdose at age 28. The folk-jazz style of the senior Buckley still influences bands like Canada's Our Lady Peace three decades later.

Like his father, Jeff Buckley left very little for his fans to remember him by, having only released a four-song EP, Live at Sin-É, and his 1994 full-length debut, Grace. But as Buckley slipped into the deadly waters of the Wolf River, his band was on its way to Memphis to cut an album's worth of songs provisionally titled My Sweetheart the Drunk, for which the group and the singer had already recorded demos. Buckley had also made several four-track recordings of new songs on his own. And in the wake of his death, his mother, Mary Guibert (with help from his bandmates and friends), culled through those rough-draft recordings to create the two-CD set SKETCHES for My Sweetheart the Drunk.

The album's 20 cuts range from original love ballads that bear the sensuality of Smokey Robinson's work to an emotionally ravaged and hypnotic cover of Genesis' "Back in N.Y.C." to a number of mystical electronic mantras. The first disc starts like an obvious follow-up to Grace in that the writing is unusual but the music is structured and executed like much of contemporary rock. Though the material was still in its demo state, the recordings sound surprisingly complete and impassioned-Buckley obviously lived his songs even when he didn't expect them to be heard publicly. In the opening tune, "The Sky Is a Landfill," the singer damns an insipid, chained-to-a-computer culture and its disregard for the environment with plenty of alt-rock angst."Everybody Here Wants You" is the pop gem of the set, with Buckley singing falsetto atop a smooth but psychedelic soul groove; it's as if Prince was sitting in with Jefferson Airplane.

Buckley once said that when he first heard the late Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan it changed his life, and much of his music bears traces of the Pakistani master. But not until this set does the full impact of Ali Khan's influence come through. On tunes like " Yard of Blonde Girls," Buckley's voice transcends the melody and the screaming electronic feedback as he chants rather than sings the words. Even his lyrics take a mystical turn in " I Know We Could Be So Happy, Baby (If We Wanted To Be)" a solo demo Buckley in Memphis. As the instrumentation drones like a harmonium, the singer intones "I'm not with you but of you." It is on these solo endeavors that Buckley is at his most experimental, often stirring his voice in and around electronic sounds as if he were pouring sweetness into bitter coffee.

Two songs appear on both discs, "Nightmare by the Sea" and "New Year's Prayer," and remind us that this batch of songs was still evolving at the time of his death. The first "Nightmare" opens on the same sonic plane as Nirvana's "Come as You Are," while the second is less languid. The initial take of "New Year's Prayer" begins with Buckley singing lines like "Feel no shame for what you are" over and over as the band lays a bed of mesmerizing Eastern-tinged funk. The second version is considerably leaner and less evocative.

Most posthumous releases rouse a sense of nostalgia in the listener because the music held within can't be brought back to life. The rough simplicity of Jerry Garcia's singing, a stone-free Hendrix guitar solo, and the bursts of emotional turmoil in Kurt Cobain's live performances are sapped of vitality and become fossilized in rock-and-roll history on endless best-ofs and retrospectives. And there are sure to be more Buckley compilations coming down the road that will undoubtedly outsell Grace. But SKETCHES for My Sweetheart the Drunk does not fall into the nostalgia bin because it has been put together to capture the life and process of the musician and his music. And when he sits down alone with his guitar for the final cut of the set, the traditional folk tune "Satisfied Mind," Buckley sounds vital and complete. It's the perfect ending to a dark and mysterious recording, for the singer seems to be soothing the pain both within his own soul and those of his fans as he sings: One thing for certain, when it comes my time, I leave this old world with a satisfied mind."

Mojo magazine, June 1998
Death becomes him? - by Jim Irvin

The first posthumous release by a much-missed artist is always a tense moment for followers. Can unfinished work live up to our expectations?

(Recording for the follow-up to Grace was due to start on June 30, 1997, rehearsals a month earlier on May 30. Jeff Buckley drowned on the night of May 29. These CDs are drawn from the demos he left behind.)

Fans of Grace might find this album tough going. For one thing, it's hard to divorce the circumstances of its existence from the music -- some of which is very beautiful, yet you know it wouldn't sound this way if Jeff Buckley had lived. In other words, you're listening to this record because he died. Secondly, there are several moments that seem too private, things we probably shouldn't be hearing. At these times you might experience the same uneasy fascination you'd get from illicitly reading someone's diary. You might also find yourself distracted by questions like, "Who chose this running order?", "Why are there two versions of two songs with nothing much to choose between them?" or "Was this song finished?"

We'll never know if Jeff Buckley wanted anybody to hear the ugly clutter of Haven't You Heard, we can be certain he had more in mind for the complex Murder Suicide Meteor Slave than the detuned, trebly mush it is here and we can only wonder at how its lovely Beatle-ish interlude would have turned out. Did he lay down the home-made cover of Back In New York City (a Genesis song from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway) with a view to putting it on record or simply for his own amusement, something to get the creative juices flowing? Is there any real value in hearing tracks as nascent as Demon John or Your Flesh Is So Nice -- barely written songs, with arrangements just hinted at by slapdash guitars and extemporised melodies you know he'd have nailed later or abandoned completely? Is it right to include performances where his singing is unfocused, lazy or tired? Or those where the band are just feeling their way?

As I understand it, from talking to his management shortly after his death, Jeff Buckley's unreleased legacy runs thus: the remainder of the Live At Sin-E recordings; radio sessions and solo spots such as those on the French Live At The Bataclan EP (which he hated); one outtake from Grace, Forget Her (removed to make room for So Real); the "live in the studio" solo sets recorded during the making of Grace; a series of 24-track live recordings with the full band (some of these, like the extended version of Alex Chilton's Kanga-Roo, have appeared on B-sides and promo discs); the sessions recorded with Tom Verlaine in Memphis a few months before his death; a few tracks recorded in New York soon afterwards; and a large number of 4-track demos Buckley cut in the last weeks of his life.

After he drowned, the inevitable question of what to do with this material had to be faced. Manager Dave Lory spent days going through the tapes found in Jeff's house. He had to listen to everything, no matter what it said on the box, as Jeff had a habit of cutting demos on whatever came to hand. Sure enough, he found one new song halfway through side two of an old Michael Bolton promo cassette.

He then met up with Steve Berkowitz (Jeff's A&R man) and Andy Wallace (the producer of Grace), to make a definitive inventory of all the extant recordings and dub the demos onto digital masters. These were three of the men who knew Jeff's working methods best and they argued every day about what might be done with this stuff, which songs Jeff would have been happy with, how best to release the material or, indeed, if any of it should come out at all.

Just as they were finishing this process, they were fired, by Jeff's mother, Mary Guibert, who'd inherited her son's estate and assumed the responsibility of compiling an album with another Columbia A&R executive, Don DeVito, (who'd not worked extensively with Buckley while he was alive). They asked Buckley's friend, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, to "sit in Jeff's seat". Andy Wallace was rehired to complete his mixes of the Verlaine sessions which make up Disc 1 of this collection.

When Buckley completed those tracks he told Lory that he "couldn't find his soul" in them. He was aware there was a lot of work still to do before he could cut a worthy follow-up to Grace, so he temporarily dismissed his band and retreated to his rented house in Memphis to revise the songs and write new ones. (Some of these, Mood Swing Whiskey, Sky Blue Skin, Don't Listen To Anyone But Me, Woke Up In A Strange Place and Let's Bomb The Moonlight remain in the can.) Disc 2 features seven of those demos, retakes of two of the songs on Disc 1, some CD-ROM material (which was not available for review) and a stray radio recording from 1992 of the country standard Satisfied Mind ("I went with a satisfied mind"), clearly chosen as a pointed closer.

Diametrically opposed to it, Disc 1's opener, The Sky Is A Landfill, is a bleak, relentless torrent of anger. As "evil blacks the sky" Buckley advises that we "Don't suck the milk of flaccid Bill K. Public's empty promise to the people". "This way of life is so devised to snuff out the mind that moves," he continues, moved to send a mail bomb to "Mr. Strong Arm", who is "useless like the cops at the scene of a crime". Although impressive, it's a curious track to open with, throwing a grim shadow over what follows. It takes a few listens, then, but gradually Sketches', pearls begin to shine through.

Vancouver kicks off with a Byrdsian riff and a beautiful double-tracked falsetto, spinning into a dizzy song driven by piano, fuzz bass and crashing guitars. Nightmares By The Sea is great, too. After an intro reminiscent of Nirvana's Come As You Are, it turns into a churning pop song -- and check the lyrics: "Stay with me under these waves tonight/Be free for once in your life tonight/Bluebeard's young and handsome/So new to your bedroom floor/You know damn well where you're gone." Likewise, the a cappella You And I (again, a song whose melody was not fully developed) starts with the line "Ah, the calm below that poisoned river wild". It can't be too long before someone ekes out a morbid dissertation concerning the water imagery in these songs.

However, it's the second track that will be this collection's calling card. Everybody Here Wants You draws from the same divine well as Lover, You Should Have Come Over on Grace. It's a lump-in-the-throat soul ballad which sways like Smokey Robinson's Cruisin', or Chic's At Last I Am Free. Jeff sings in a tender falsetto with a hint of jealous ire shading the delicious, pleading chorus -- "Everybody here wants you/Everybody here thinks he needs you/I'll be waiting right here just to show you our love will blow it all away" -- as the bass tumbles along lyrically. Awkward middle-four aside, it's an instant classic. And it serves to make the lesser tracks here an even greater source of sadness, simultaneously reminding us that this wonderful voice has sung its last.

There's a lot of fine material still unheard and we must hope its trustees are careful with it. One thing's sure: a definitive selection will never exist, except in our heads and, one day perhaps, on our personal Ultimate Jeff compilations.

At best, Sketches has much the same function and effect as The Beatles Anthology collections. It's a document of a great musical mind cranking into gear, a series of clues to what might have been. If you were hoping for a record to equal Grace, well, you'll be disappointed. But be assured that Jeff Buckley's sketches overshadow most artists' completed works.

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