Jeff Buckley
Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk

Late singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley was a rarity in this cynical age, an artist who wasn't too cool to be himself. He had a yearning, confessional style and an uncommon amount of humility and passion. The quavering vocals, bold musical colors, and emotionally naked lyrics of his successful 1993 debut, Grace, clashed with the detached, anti-pop climate of the time. In preparation for his second album, Buckley recorded three sets of studio demos with ex-Television guitarist Tom Verlaine producing, then migrated to Memphis, where he was set to re-record many of the tracks with Grace producer Andy Wallace. But on May 29, 1997, Buckley drowned during an impromptu swim in the treacherous Mississippi River; his band was flying from New York to start the new sessions.

In the year since his death, disbelief has softened to acceptance, but the sting of a stolen promise lingers in the posthumous release of Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk. Though it is not the record Buckley had planned to make in Memphis, it is a stunningly good compromise. Compiled by Buckley's mother, Mary Guibert, the double-disc set is indeed bittersweet, but it's also vivid and muscular, and true to his empathy for those at the wrong end of the emotional food chain.

Wallace's mixes of the tracks recorded with Verlaine dominate disc one, a solid rock testament to Buckley's embrace of love, freedom, and fatalism. "Leave your spirit genocide" and "Throw off your shame or be a slave to the system," Buckley rails on "The Sky Is a Landfill," chiding those who would rather "take another drag" of conformity than go their own way. "Feel no shame for what you are" he advises in the swirling, Eastern-flavored "New Year's Prayer," advocating self-emancipation and challenging: "Leave your office/Run past your funeral/Leave your home, car/Leave your pulpit," and "Join us in the streets where we don't belong." In "Opened Once," he ponders his place in life, singing "I am a railroad track abandoned/With the sunset/ Forgetting I ever happened." And on "Morning Theft," though he is speaking about a girl, his soothing take on healing and grief is prophetic. "Time takes care of the wounds, so I can believe," he assures, though he wistfully admits, "There's no relief in this/I miss my beautiful friend."

The second disc offers a look at Buckley deep in the throes of creativity, especially in six four-track recordings made during his last months. From the joyous "Your Flesh Is So Nice" to the earnest "Jewel Box," these unrestrained, homespun tracks are alive with wordplay and the dry clickity-click of a guitar pick across steel strings.

In the big picture of rock history, Buckley is one more soul in the lamentable parade of talented young voices silenced too soon, another sad reminder of the randomness of circumstance. While death may now illuminate the effort, Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk confirms that the resonance of Buckley's work owes no debt to his passing.

-- Robin Myrick

Garnett Silk

Garnet Silk's meteoric rise to fame came to a sudden halt in December 1994 when the 28-year-old Jamaican singer/songwriter and his mother died in a fire in her home. In a few short years, Silk, known for hits such as "Hello Mama Africa" and "Zion in a Vision," had become a household name to reggae-music lovers worldwide. (A household name, but one that was misspelled. In an interview shortly before his death, he expressed his irritation at the insistence of his label and the music press on spelling his first name with two t's.) Many called him the next Bob Marley.

Instead of embracing the gun and girl themes that had come to dominate Jamaica's dancehalls, Silk directed dancehall reggae back to its roots, to spiritual, reality-based, love-filled lyrics. At the time of his death, this musical messenger was one of the performers most in demand on the island and had recently signed with Big Beat/ Atlantic Records.

Journey is a collection of songs Silk recorded for Delroy "Callo" Collins, one of the many producers he worked with in his short career (Silk first recorded in 1984 but didn't see the release of his debut album until 1992). The album also contains excerpts from interviews aired on Jamaica's IRIE-FM and JBC Television. The disc opens with news of Silk's death; a broadcaster reads, "The two bodies that were recovered from the scene had their arms entwined around each other, which has left the impression that Mr. Silk died hugging his mother." This moving announcement leads into "Mama," Silk's stirring tribute to his mother: "Oh Mama/I know you're my shining star/Stay by me/Never go too far."

The thirteen-track set -- featuring some of Jamaica's most respected musicians, namely drummer Desi Jones, bassist and guitarist Glen Browne, keyboardist Robbie Lyn, and horn player Dean Fraser -- includes Silk's first release, 1985's "Problems Everywhere," and also "See Bimbo Ya!!!" Both were recorded early in his career when he was a DJ-rapper known as DJ Bimbo. Silk was proficient at voicing lyrics over driving rhythms, but he really shone as a singer. The rest of Journey showcases what the sweet-voiced vocalist did best: deliver sincere lyrics in a quavering tenor that could melt even the coldest heart.

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