Grace

Jeff Buckley

album cover

A Voice Prematurely Lost

Reading the eulogies and appreciations of Jeff Buckley—the singer and songwriter who drowned in Memphis in 1997 at age thirty—it was easy to feel that a major voice, if not the last best hope of rock, had been stilled. In fact, Buckley, the son of cult songwriter Tim Buckley (see next page), was then at work on just his second full album. The rhapsodic praise for him was based on this one set of songs—and transcendent live shows during which he'd practically levitate off the ground, singing airborne melodies in a voice kissed with equal helpings of angelic purity and demon lust. Buckley struck some admirers as a rock god à la those of the mystical late 1960s, a singer forever in search of unattainable ecstasy. At the same time he could sound like a tortured Sylvia Plath type, desperate to convey a particular depth of feeling. He could wail like an opera singer nearing the big final scene, and create extemporaneous themes like a jazz player. Among his favorite singers was the qawwali master Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (see p. 422), whose reeling, stemwinding improvisations have no parallel in Western music.

Grace stands alone in '90s rock. It's a showcase for an unforgettably poised singing voice in an era of leather-lung shouters, and it locates fertile ground somewhere between classic rock and the scruffier music happening in the wake of grunge. Buckley took the episodic outbursts of Nirvana and surrounded them with elegant, yearning melodies that echo the late Beatles. He wrote more than a few epics: "Mojo Pin" volleys between pensive moments and thundering Led Zeppelin tumult.

At each step he knows exactly which musical textures should surround his voice. At times he sings over a chorus of forceful rhythm guitars and at other moments Buckley's voice stands alone in an ethereal mist. These contrasts make Grace so riveting. At a time when many rockers rejected anything that smacked of "classic rock," Buckley bathed in its long shadow, delighted in its mysticism, reveled in possibilities his peers scoffed at. In the process he showed several generations that profoundly new rock and roll doesn't necessarily involve the wholesale rejection of what came before.

Genre: Rock
Released: 1994, Columbia
Key Tracks: "Mojo Pin," "Last Goodbye," "So Real," "Hallelujah"
Catalog Choice: Live at Sin-e; The Grace EPs; Sketches (for My Sweetheart the Drunk)
Next Stop: Elliott Smith: XO
After That: Jeremy Enigk: Return of the Frog Queen
Book Page: 126

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Comments:

#1 from dawn, ca - 02/14/2009 4:50

Words can’t describe the beauty that is Jeff Buckley. He made my life better having his music in it. I am lucky to know his soul through the legacy he left us. If you buy just one of the 1000 albums here, make Grace the one.

#2 from Shane, Tn - 02/19/2009 2:48

I remember seeing the video for last goodbye on MTV and it just didn’t click with me.  I wrote Jeff Buckley off as the flavor of the month that MTV was trying to force on the masses.

A few years later my roommate was listening to Sketches for my Sweetheart the Drunk, and it was like a kick in the teeth.  I realized the mistake I had made writing him off earlier.  I went out that week and bought this album.  It is one of the best rock albums I have ever heard.  Buy it now!!

#3 from Regina, PA - 08/13/2012 10:45

Still gives me chills every time I listen, all these years later. Don’t hesitate to buy this!

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