Jeff Buckley & Gary Lucas – Songs to No One
Review by Jennifer Metcalf:
It’s probably a good bet that the majority of people who buy this CD are doing it because of the name Jeff Buckley. I did. Of course there’s no denying the incredible talent that Jeff gave us. But what this album did for me is to spark the fuse into learning more about the music of the extraordinarily versatile, Grammy-nominated Gary Lucas. What few may realize is that without Gary, there is no “Grace” or “Mojo Pin,” as he is the creator of those hauntingly sweet musical notes (Jeff wrote the words). Although the song “Grace” from Jeff’s solo LP is a beautifully polished studio version, this CD contains not one, but two earlier variants which exude a nascent energy not so evident on Jeff’s solo album.
Although the song “Grace” is one of my favorite songs in the world, I actually prefer the two versions on “Songs to No One” because the raw tones of Gary’s guitar and Jeff’s voice sound much more vulnerable and passionate without such a full, heavy back-up orchestration. On the club Roulette live performance of Grace, Jeff starts out with an innocent little harmonica tune which seems to swiftly end in a minor chord which gently, but firmly captures the ear and immerses the soul into a musical orgy with those infamous first rifts of the song. I’m not particularly fond of the harmonica spotlights later found in the song, but for true lovers of “Grace,” it’s interesting to hear early launches of the song.
This version of “Mojo Pin,” is refreshing because of its simplicity. I never realized how much the heavy bass and drums really weighed down this song on the album, “Grace.” Jeff’s voice is beautifully showcased, being impelled and kept lightly afloat by Gary’s fluid whisperings of guitar. The end of the song is a bit raucous, but it feels like a welcome release of energy.
This album is not for those looking for neatly packaged, polished, bubblegum pop music, which is probably why some of the reviews here are not glowing. This music requires a sophisticated ear with depth to absorb the true musical genius of both musicians, which is sometimes baked underneath a slightly rough exterior caused by these demo and live performances, which, to my understanding, were never intended to be released in album form. Personally, I hope this CD helps propel word of the grotesquely underrated luminary who obviously had a great impact on Jeff’s development: Gary Lucas. I’ve recently discovered his diverse repertoire of rich troves and have unearthed some of the most incredible harmonies I’ve ever heard in my life. If you’re a fan of Jeff Buckley, I’d highly recommend Gary’s albums, “Skeleton at the Feast,” and “Level the Playing Field,” both highly-praised albums by well-respected critics. They’re both utterly spectacular.