Jeff Buckley's opus 'Grace' still fresh, new
Interest in the artist continues 15 years after his death

Jeff Buckley's Grace Album

Grunge ran its course by 1994 when the debut album, “Grace,” by indie artist Jeff Buckley was released. He brought a fresh sound to the alternative scene and adopted the no frills live performance philosophy of the Grunge movement.

Musician Bono later said, "Jeff Buckley was a pure drop in an ocean of noise."

His stripped down stage act served Buckley well as he toured nonstop in support of his debut studio album for over a year and a half. The audience concentrated on only the music, as he only needed his voice, his guitar and three-piece band to make magic.

“Grace,” an album of rare beauty, listening to it is like opening a treasure box where you never know what awaits you. Before the debut of “Grace,” Columbia released “Live at Sin-e,” an EP a sampler of live appearances from the club where he honed his craft. The record company wanted to stir up interest in their new artist.

“Grace,” would be Buckley’s only studio album as he drowned swimming in the river in Memphis, Tenn., three years later. Working on his second studio album, he decided to swim just hours before his band arrived in Memphis. He was only 30 years old and there were no drugs or alcohol in his system unlike his father who died at 28 of an accidental drug overdose.

The style of “Grace ” is difficult to describe because of the wide variety of music on this 10-song album. Growing up, Buckley listened to many different types of music as his mother was a classically trained musician and his stepfather was into classic rock. His biological father, ‘60s and ‘70s musician Tim Buckley excelled at composing many different styles of music during his 9-year career. He passed on his four-plus octave voice to his son.

The quiet, “Mojo Pin” opens and sets the tone for the rest of the album. It starts out as a slow melody with just the guitar and Buckley’s controlled vocals. Then the song launches into hard rock and swifts back and forth between the two styles. This song about a dream or an addiction contained intense lyrics like, “Born again from the rhythm, screaming down from heaven.” The interplay of the slow and hard music in this song sets you on a roller coaster that continues throughout the record. The contrasts within the songs and song choices keep this album exciting.
Then Buckley immediately goes into melodic heavy guitar in his second song, “Grace.”  He changes his vocal range throughout while he emphasizes his guitar playing. As the song progresses his rich tenor rises through to the end of the song.
Before you have time to catch your breath, you hear the acoustic guitar intro of “Last Good-by.” This song, about the end of a love affair, is one of the most melodic and heartfelt songs. It also was the most successful song on the album.
As for variety, the next song, “Lilac Wine,” appears untypical for any rock album. Written in 1950 by James Shelton ; Eartha Kitt and Nina Simone and others have recorded this classic number. Buckley sings it in torch singer style and puts a jazz-like feel to it.
“So Real,” changes the mood of the album and sounds the most like a ‘90 s indie song. It sounds dark and was recorded after Buckley had added guitarist Michael Tighe to the band. Tighe added guitar parts to the song and the additional guitar gives the song a fuller rock sound.
The second cover song and Leonard Cohen’s much covered “Hallelujah,” comes next. Most critics and fans consider Buckley’s the best version. His more tuneful rendition features his beautiful vocals that can be called angelic sounding. His melodious voice takes center stage and draws you completely into the song. You listen so intently and look forward to each line as you hear the immense emotion in his voice.
“Lover You Should Have Come Over,” is a song about immaturity and you hear the confusion in Buckley’s voice. It leads into the last cover song on the album, the Middle English hymn, “Corpus Christi Carol.” Buckley stretches his voice in this song and hits all the high notes with ease. The song is a surprise as it so unexpected. Then Buckley launches into his most heavy metal song, “Eternal Life.” It is an angry song, about life being too short to have others ruin it. It shows the influence of his favorite rock band, Led Zeppelin. Along with the heavy fast guitar, he shouts his rage during most of the song.
Buckley immediately goes into the closing number, a slower song, “Dream Brother.” Although written for a friend, he references his late father. (Tim Buckley had written a song, “Dream Letter,” in ’69 for his son and his ex-wife.) You hear the pain and disappointment in Jeff Buckley’s voice as he recalls the effects of being abandoned by his father.
After Buckley’s death, Columbia released his unfinished album as “Sketches For My Sweetheart, The Drunk.” It contains demos and unfinished studio recordings and was not a finished album. They also released live recordings and special edition albums with unheard material, but “Grace,” stands alone as his only complete studio album.

British rock magazine, “Mojo,” called “Grace,” the greatest album of the past 15 years in 2006. Although it was ignored when it first came out, the album has only grown in reputation as the years go by.  If you want to hear an album that sounds like nothing else, contains beautiful vocals, and keeps you yearning for more, then give “Grace,” a listen.

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