V.A. – Dream Brother: The Songs of Tim & Jeff Buckley
There are certain things in the music business that just don’t work. Something intrinsic, some kind of natural law, keeps them from greatness; they suck because they have to suck, because suckiness is woven into the very fibres of their beings. Now I’m sure we all have our favorite entries in this illustrious category – duet records, Live Aid-style charity affairs, remix albums – but chief amongst them all, the cream of the crap, so to speak, there stand but two. I’m speaking, of course, about the tribute album and the famous rock star offspring: two musical miscarriages which, save for a very few exceptions, manage to churn out a steady stream of all-but-unlistenable tripe.
Which is exactly why Tim and Jeff Buckley continue to be such fascinating artists. Here’s a prodigiously talented, if notoriously uneven singer/songwriter; one whose young death leaves him with a cult status which only strengthens with the rise of his equally talented, equally doomed son. The Buckleys are more than just a father/son musical tradition that actually works. They are, more than any other patrilineal duo in rock, genuinely of a piece with one another: Jeff was his father’s son, and Tim, more than he could ever know, was his son’s father. And then there’s Dream Brother: a formerly import-only tribute album (uh-oh) to both Buckleys, compiled by their biographer, David Browne, and featuring a host of current indie notables and not-so-notables. Just as Tim and Jeff Buckley were not your average rock star father and offspring, so Dream Brother is not your average tribute…which is to say, it’s actually good.
In fact, it’s very good. Divided between stripped down, acoustic indie-folk and quirky electronic textures – with a handful of tracks, such as Tunng’s version of Tim’s “No Man Can Find the War,” bridging the gap between the two genres – this album explores its subjects’ restless experimentation and their innocent emotional center alike, with equally revealing results. Covers like the Magic Numbers’ “Sing a Song for You,” which opens the record, cut straight to the heart of the original versions, paring back on the histrionics both Buckleys tended toward until all that is left is pure, hymnlike beauty. It’s this principle under which all the best songs on Dream Brother operate: when an artist brings something of themselves to an already great song, the results are magical. Take “She Is” by Sufjan Stevens, which sounds like it could have come off the singer’s own Seven Swans, or “I Must Have Been Blind” by the Earlies, perhaps the most perfect application yet of the trans-Atlantic group’s trademark lush/rootsy dichotomy.
Not everything on Dream Brother works, of course; Engineers’ “Song to the Siren” pilfers from This Mortal Coil’s arrangement instead of Tim’s superior original, and a few of the more electro-flavored songs at the end (such as Clayhill’s droning version of “The River”) just don’t stand out as much as the collection’s excellent first five tracks. But that opening sequence – “Sing a Song for You,” Micah P. Hinson’s “Yard of Blonde Girls,” “She Is,” “I Must Have Been Blind,” and a haunting, meandering “Grace” by King Creosote – is enough to justify the price of admission on its own. Here is that rarest of things, twice over: a tribute album which doesn’t suck, dedicated to a musical father and son who didn’t suck, either. It would be hyperbole to call Dream Brother miraculous on those strengths alone…but with music as good as this, who needs a miracle?
Reviewed by Zach Hoskins