Jeff Buckley was much more than the tragic rock god he has become. He was a soul singer who incorporated a passion for the blues and jazz into his folky brand of rock music. No Buckley release since his death in 1997 has captured this soulful essence the way his 1993 EP, Live at Sin-é, did (and does). Reissued by Legacy Recordings with an additional 17 tracks, Live at Sin-é, in its new form, is what 2000’s Mystery White Boy (and the second disc of Sketches: For My Sweetheart the Drunk, for that matter) should have been: a private yet very public glimpse into the evolution of one of the most promising artists of the ‘90s. The album captures the folk movement of the East Village that was still flourishing in the early part of the decade—it’s an artifact left over from when there were more artists on St. Mark’s than fast food joints. The performances found here—recorded at the Sin-é Café in the summer of 1993—find Buckley disarmed, challenged, inspired and, above all, graceful. Only a handful of songs on the album are original compositions (“Mojo Pin” and “Eternal Life,” both of which appeared on the original release, along with “Grace” and an early version of “Last Goodbye”), but the covers Buckley chose to perform seem tailor-made for him. He makes Dylan his own (“Just Like a Woman,” “I Shall Be Released”) and even manages to fit his little white-boy feet into Billy and Nina’s shoes (“Strange Fruit,” “Twelfth of Never”). And, of course, there’s Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” a song he transformed into something wholly unique on his landmark full-length debut Grace. The listening experience is at once disturbing and comforting—the double-disc set includes many amusing interludes, one of which is an impromptu impersonation of Jim Morrison while another nods to one of Buckley’s contemporaries, Kurt Cobain. For fans of Buckley (both casual and hardcore), this new version of Live at Sin-é will be nothing short of a treasure. The album’s liner notes read: “He was the Montgomery Clift of singer-songwriters, beautiful and bruised, struggling so hard to communicate you could feel it.” One might call communication you can feel “music.” And Live at Sin-é is beautiful communication indeed.
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