Saturday, May 29, 2010

May 29: Jeff Buckley, "Last Goodbye"

Artist: Jeff Buckley
Song: "Last Goodbye"
Album: Grace
Year: 1994

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If history has proven one thing, it is that finding success, as a “second generation” musician is one of the most difficult tasks that one can undertake. Furthermore, it seems that the more famous the first generation was, it is proportionately more difficult for the younger to achieve. While there are certainly far more who have come up short, the few “children” who have found their own sound rank among the finest musicians in history and often find themselves in the iconic company of their parents. Names like Guthrie, Williams, and Zappa require a first name, as musical brilliance is clearly a gene that is passed through their generations. Similarly, as the son of a songwriter with an almost cult-like following, one cannot overlook the beauty and talent within the music of the late Jeff Buckley. Though he only released a single album before he tragically drowned in 1997, that album, 1994’s Grace is absolutely brilliant, and quickly earned him a similar cult following like that of his father. Every second on the album is nothing short of stunning, as Buckley shows no fear in letting loose amazing vocal work along side a full wall of musical arrangements. The album produced a number of modest hits, and strangely enough, nearly fifteen years after its release, Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” went to the top of the charts, thanks to a placement in a number of films and television shows. Yet among many amazing tracks, there are few songs from any era that can compare to the sound and emotion found on Jeff Buckley’s 1994 song, “Last Goodbye.”

Only a select group of songs in history have the “flow” along the emotion of the performer as one finds in “Last Goodbye,” as the entire song seems to follow Buckley’s mood along massive hills and valleys.  At every turn in the song, there is a good or feel that is unlike anything else, and it is almost a jazz-like characteristic, as the music is clearly based more on this feeling than it is on the progressions written down.  The layered guitars from Buckley and Michael Tighe are absolutely gorgeous, and they give the song an amazing tone as the acoustic sound weaves its way around the electric.  The string section that can be heard throughout adds yet another layer to this sound, and it gives "Last Goodbye" an amazing, almost ethereal sound and mood.  Moving all over the mix, bassist Mick Grondahl is clearly one of the most important pieces of Buckley's sound, and there are few records from the era that so prominently feature the instrument.  Drummer Matt Johnson rounds out the sound on "Last Goodbye," and his steady, yet bouncing performance plays as a perfect compliment to the rest of the band.  In reality, it is rather difficult to accurately categorize the sound of "Last Goodbye," as it isn't quite a rock song, yet not really fitting of the term "ballad" either.  This "middle ground" that Buckley finds is in many ways the reason why the song remains so timeless, as it has a quality that can easily fit into any time period and it is why the song still receives airplay more than fifteen years after its first release.

Moving in a similar fashion as the music, Jeff Buckley's extraordinary voice is powered by his heart, as opposed to a pre-designed arrangement.  Without question, Buckley has one of the most memorable and truly amazing voices of his generation, as the combination of sheer power and limitless range place him into a class all his own.  His voice soars in a stunning way over the choruses, and the verses are filled with a sincerity that is beyond uncommon in the vocals of any era.  This, in many ways, is the true gift of Jeff Buckley, as he is able to make his songs overflow with emotion, yet there is never a question of whether or not there is a true heart behind the lyrics.  On "Last Goodbye," Buckley sings some of his most heartfelt lyrics, and one must wonder if this was written about someone else, or if it was an eerie foreshadowing of his own tragic passing.  The song itself can be interpreted on a number of levels, from the more literal sense of a lost friend, to the idea that the song is in fact about a broken relationship.  Regardless of which interpretation one takes, the lyrics still ring through in a beautiful way, and one can easily feel the almost chilling emotion when Buckley sings, "... must I dream and always see your face?"  Yet there is perhaps no more powerful a line, and no more perfect an example of Buckley's sound and style than when he pleads, "... but kiss me out of desire, babe, and not consolation...."  While every note played on "Last Goodbye" is perfectly placed, the entire song clearly follows the ebb and flow of Jeff Buckley's stunning vocal performance.

Throughout the 1990s, music expanded in countless directions, and for the first few years of the decade, quite literally "any" sound had a chance at becoming a hit.  From the early years of gangsta rap to the slower, more reflective pop sounds, there are few times in history that can boast as wide a range of hits as these few years.  Carrying on the family name and tradition of amazing musicianship, the late Jeff Buckley was an integral part of this time, and his songs remain some of the most honest and musically amazing of the era.  With a full musical orchestration that is often more concerned about "how" something is being played as opposed to "what" is being played, Buckley paved the way for countless later artists like Ryan Adams and even Radiohead to a certain extent.  The multiple string sounds, all layered together gives "Last Goodbye" a mood like no other song in history, and the rhythm section performs with equal expertise, and there is not a dull or down moment to be found anywhere on 1994's Grace.  Capped off by Buckley's unparalleled singing ability, his voice is truly something special and he is far beyond nearly ever other singer of his time.  Bringing some of the most heart-wrenching lyrics ever penned, Buckley was clearly the "complete package," and one can only wonder what else he would have achieved had his life not been lost at such a tragically young age.  Though all of Jeff Buckley's 1994 record, Grace, is very special and worth experiencing, there is something very special within the sound and words of his stunning song, "Last Goodbye."

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