It’s hard to say why Jeff Buckley’s mother, Mary Gubert, continues to release his material commercially. She’s clearly not capitalizing on his death because not one of his releases has even been certified gold. However, she seems a bit overzealous in trying to preserve his life by salvaging anything he left behind. Her son was supremely talented and possibly one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the ’90s, but he was no cultural phenomenon like Kurt Cobain. And even Geffen has shut the door on issuing unreleased Nirvana material. Rather than let the legacy rest, Sony Music has released Mystery White Boy, a collection of live Buckley recordings from the mid-’90s. Most of the tracks (“Dream Brother,” “Mojo Pin,” “Last Goodbye”) are culled from his brilliant debut, Grace, but the magic isn’t nearly as pure. The quality of the recordings is acceptable but not exceptional, and the album ultimately sounds like a good bootleg.
Considering the amount of time Gubert spent rummaging through live material, one would think the end result would reflect the beauty of Buckley’s studio talents. The selection of unreleased new tracks are decent yet forgettable. “What Will You Say,” recorded in France in 1995, sounds like a thin ghost of a Buckley song. It makes one wonder where he would be musically if he was still with us today. Yet “Moodswing Whiskey” is a subtle reminder that maybe he wasn’t meant to be.The album ends with a selection of covers, including an a cappella version of Gershwin’s “The Man That Got Away,” a ten-minute version of “Kanga Roo,” and a medley of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Morrissey’s “I Know It’s Over.” (“Hallelujah” is a tune Buckley truly made his own on Grace). These are the gems of Mystery White Boy. Many of Buckley’s live shows were intentionally anonymous (he used names like Father Demo), and they probably should have remained that way. But the biggest of hardcore fans will of course need to own this album (even if they don’t play it much) because, like Gubert, they believed in his potential.