Album Review: Jeff Buckley, “Grace” (1994)

Every once in a while, someone comes along in music whom you know is going to make a difference. This could easily be said of Jeff Buckley. Buckley appeared in the music scene in ’91 and was quickly hailed by fans and critics alike to be one of the most promising artists of his generation. He was an acclaimed songwriter and guitarist, and his first and only studio album, Grace, has made several “greatest album of all time” lists. It was a tragedy in 1997 when Buckley drowned in an unfortunate accident (at the young age of 30, no less); however, his legacy still lives on.

In fact, I was introduced to him through the fact that one of my favorite singers, Jamie Cullum, covered his song Lover, You Should’ve Come Over on his debut album. Cullum is just one of the few- Buckley’s songs have been covered by everyone from Sebastian Bach to John Mayer and Howie Day. Grace is a succinct collection of music showing exactly why Buckley’s music is so amazing.

The album begins with Mojo Pin, and we are introduced to the sounds of Buckley quietly harmonizing at the beginning of the song. The song has quite a dream-like feeling to it, and has spurred many discussions about the lyrics being about heroin (though Buckley himself stated that he thought the song was “about a dream”). Buckley’s voice is simply amazing in this song; his four octave range gets a full work out, especially during the catchy chorus (“Don’t wanna weep for you, I don’t wanna know/I’m blind and tortured, the white horses flow/The memories fire, the rhythms fall slow/Black beauty I love you so”). Musically, the song is somewhat of a melodious journey- it begins quietly and subdued, but by the first chorus, the guitar picks up and there’s a lot of lovely riffing and drumming that goes on towards the end. The song presents a wonderful start to the album.

Grace follows and begins loudly with a nice guitar melody. Again, Buckley’s voice is a pleasure to listen to; his tone is smooth, though his vocals remain strong. The song has a sort of classic rock feeling to it, and reminds me of some of the music released in the 70’s, with the acoustic guitar work and the psychedelic-like sound effects that run through the background. Buckley co-wrote the song with Gary Lucas(who is also credited for co-writing Mojo Pin and plays additional guitar on both songs), and the song is about everlasting love (though the line “Well it’s my time coming, I’m not afraid to die ” seems a bit prophetic and eerie now).

We get to the really good stuff with Last Goodbye. Buckley definitely had a penchant for writing heart-wrenching breakup songs (more evidence of this will be presented later), and this is the first of many on this album. Combined with passionate lyrics (“Just hear this and then I’ll go/You gave me more to live for/More than you’ll ever know…/Well, the bells out in the church tower chime/Burning clues into this heart of mine/Thinking so hard on her soft eyes and the memories/Offer signs that it’s over”) and an equally emotional delivery, the song is an easy favorite.

Lilac Wine is a slow torch song, that was originally sung by Nina Simone. Buckley gives the song a necessary amount of soul, and its sultry melody is one that you won’t easily forget. So Real has a wonderful guitar riff that alone makes it worth listening to. The song isn’t much noticeable besides the guitar (though the line, “I love you/But I’m afraid to love you” is nice), and Buckley’s wailing vocals work well.

Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah is featured on the album, and it’s another one of the strongest tracks. Though I’ve heard several versions of this song, (Rufus Wainwright’s version is one of my favorites, though Fiona Apple’s is also quite nice) Buckley’s is easily the most passionate. The track opens with Buckley gradually picking out the melody on his guitar, and sets a sleepy mood for the song. Lyrically, the song is quite interesting. Cohen’s original lyrics have barely stayed in tact through all the various covers, and Buckley mixes some of the original ’84 lyrics with ones that Cohen himself wrote in ’94, giving the song a mixture of both a sexual and biblical meaning (“But remember when I moved in you/And the holy dove was moving too/And every breath we drew was Hallelujah…/Maybe there’s a God above/But all I’ve ever learned from love/Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya/And it’s not a cry that you hear at night/It’s not somebody who’s seen the light/It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah”). Buckley certainly stretches himself vocally; again, he breathes so much emotion and depth into the song that during the first listen I teared up, and the song still touches me now. We really get to hear his range towards the ending of the song as he holds out a long falsetto note for nearly 24 seconds.

Finally, my favorite Buckley song (and one of my favorite songs, period), Lover, You Should’ve Come Over appears on the album. As I mentioned earlier, I originally fell in love with Cullum’s remake of the track, and while his version is absolutely beautiful, Buckley’s is even better. The song begins with a beautiful organ intro, and then fades into Buckley playing acoustic guitar with the backing of a simple drum loop. Right from the opening lyrics, a picture of a breakup is perfectly painted, and with such feeling that anyone who has ever suffered from a broken heart can easily relate. Again, Buckley is in his prime vocally; he wails and cries his way through the lyrics and he seems to be in agony as he sings about the end of his relationship (the lines, “It’s never over, my kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder/It’s never over, all my riches for her smiles when i slept so soft against her/It’s never over, all my blood for the sweetness of her laughter/It’s never over; she’s the tear that hangs inside my soul forever…/Well I feel too young to hold on/And I’m much too old to break free and run/Too deaf, dumb, and blind to see the damage I’ve done/Sweet lover, you should’ve come over/Oh, love well I’m waiting for you”, give me the chills each time I hear them). Admittedly, this is another song that can make me cry, and I call recall many times turning to it went I felt upset over a relationship. Place this song with Prince’s classic,The Beautiful Ones as two of the best breakup songs, ever.

Finally, moving on, (I kinda got stuck listening to Lover on repeat before continuing with the rest of the album) Corpus Christi Carol, is next. The song is actually a carol and Buckley covers British conductor and composer, Benjamin Britten’s, rendition (on a side note, I once sang another one of Britten’s pieces, This Little Babe, from A Ceremony of Carols, for a choral concert; it’s another lovely piece!). However, the song is really just another excuse to highlight Buckley’s vocals- he sings in falsetto during the entire song and hits a beautifully pure high note during the end that some sopranoswouldn’t even dare try to recreate.

The tempo picks up with Eternal Life, which is probably the heaviest song (in terms of guitar) on the album. Buckley once spoke about the song himself saying, “This is a song about…it’s an angry song. Life’s too short and too complicated for people behind desks and people behind masks to be ruining other people’s lives, initiating force against other people’s lives, on the basis of their income, their color, their class, their religious beliefs, their whatever…”. Despite the deep subject matter, the song is upbeat and nice to listen to musically, and is another strong track.

The album closes with Dream Brother, which sounds slightly reminiscent of Mojo Pin, but is still great in its own right. Musically the song has another phantasmagorical feeling to it, with the combination of Buckley’s soothing vocals and the mixture of soft acoustic guitar and the use of the tabla (a pair of Indian hand drums). Again, the lyrics are expertly written (“I feel afraid and I call your name/I love your voice and your dance insane/I hear your words and I know your pain /With your head in your hands and her kiss on the lips of another”) and the song gives off a slightly calm and haunting feeling.

It truly is sad to see such a talented musician like Jeff Buckley pass away in his prime, but Grace is a wonderful album that makes a mark in history. Though his death was nearly a decade ago, Buckley is still one of the most enchanting musicians of our time and people will be listening to his music for years to come.
Rating: 5_stars.svg
Track Listing
1. Mojo Pin
2. Grace
3. Last Goodbye
4. Lilac Wine
5. So Real
6. Hallelujah
7. Lover, You Should’ve Come Over
8. Corpus Christi Carol
9. Eternal Life
10. Dream Brother

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcaxrqhUJ4c]
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