Friday, 24 June 2016

Take Me Back: Jeff Buckley - Sweet Thing

Van Morrison has a knack for writing beautiful songs, his masterpiece Astral Weeks featured many of his best works but "Sweet Thing" stood out as one of his optimistic songs in a period of hurt and soul searching. The recording on Astral Weeks featured Van Morrison's best vocals and musicianship, with additional strings added by Larry Fallon; the strings make the song on Astral Weeks, but it's the stripped back lyricism and sheer solo beauty which attracts me to "Sweet Thing", which is why Jeff Buckley's 10 minute individual effort is one of the best covers Van Morrison could ever ask for. Buckley has a knack for this, his angelic voice is like a soothing presence needed at a funeral - it's the sound of a timeless, motionless man popping in when it matters, and fading out when the time is right. That's why Buckley's tribute to his late great father Tim in 91', specifically the track "Once I Was" becomes tragic, bringing a new meaning to a song already placed in time by Tim. You feel that in every single one of Jeff Buckley's covers, because he was a truly a marksman of playing other peoples songs the way he felt he wanted them to be played, "Once I Was" being the catalyst for "Sweet Things", and the Dylan / Simone / Morrissey covers aplenty.

Here's someone who was always ignored or pushed aside by the music press because nobody knew how to categorise his music, his sound. Those dumb enough to put him with his father were left confused; those even dumber to consider him part of a 90s scene which just didn't exist in Buckley's world were over committed to defining something which was just unrecognisable. You have a voice, you have a Telecaster, and somehow somewhere this defines him. We're all culprits especially me, but when it comes to Buckley you just can't. Tim was the master of change - he followed in the footsteps of Miles Davis; not musically, but in terms of progressing through life and feeling. Jeff who had a good understanding of Tim's music, he took the almost definitive vocal style of his father and accompanied it with consistent ethereal beauty. Live at Sin-E was Buckley's first release, we're talking pre-Grace hype - and to think how competent of a vocalist and musician he was then just a few years after only having a handful of covers and a fathers last name; the turnaround was a phenomenon label execs and audiences missed the chance to champion. "Sweet Thing", although not on the original release but on the 2003 edition was Buckley's penultimate track to "Hallelujah". And it's evident how an audience feels via the feedback sound of sheer openness towards the finale. In 10 short... minutes, Buckley managed to do what musicians spend a lifetime trying to work out, he solved how to play a pre-existing song without showing disrespect to the originator. In fact all of Buckley's covers do this but "Sweet Thing" in particular with it's message of optimism, happiness, and autumn strikes a chord in the heart no other musician can hit.
Eddie Gibson


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