Jeff Buckley, Grace – Retro CD Review

A guy who was in my philosophy class this past quarter gave me a ride home one night, and told me I was the “DJ” for the ride home. I opened his CD book and in there, I found a copy of Jeff Buckley’sGrace. We proceeded to talk about the album during the next several minutes, ignoring the music for the most part. When I got home, I pulled out my copy and gave a listen to the album. It is such a mainstay in my CD collection that I often almost forget about it, as I almost factor it as a given.

Buckley was born the son of Tim Buckley, the cult favorite folk singer from the late 1960’s and early to mid-1970’s, who died of a combination heroin/alcohol overdose in 1975. Jeff released the EP “Live at Sin-é”, shortly followed by the debut album “Grace”, and was working on his second album, when he drowned in the Mississippi River in May of 1997. HE was twenty-nine at the time.

The opening two tracks, “Mojo Pin” and “Grace”, give the listener a pretty good idea of what is to come during the total 51:48 of the CD. It soars and dips in the intro, and this is due in no small part to Buckley’s vocals. The guitar work by Gary Lucas, former bandmate of Buckley’s in Gods and Monsters, though, is no less compelling. The twittering, twitchy high-end guitar and the sweeping of the rhythm section advances the agenda. We are treated to Buckley’s high-flying range throughout the song, and it crashes to a fading end. Grace, a Pegasus ride to oblivion or a crash to flames, is haunting ; Buckley’s voice is the penultimate of what every singer/songwriter wishes to be. It seems like it’s a mere two minutes instead of five. “Last Goodbye”, the song that first exposed me to Buckley, follows. This song was released with a video on MTV back when MTV played music videos. The music itself says everything. Starting with a hollow, echo-y slide transition through the chords of the chorus, the rest of the music falls into place and pace, and Buckley tells his lover that he cannot be with him/her because he will only hurt him/her in the end. “Lilac Wine”, a cover of a tune written by James Shelton for the theater revue “Dance Me a Song”, fits Buckley like a satin glove. This song slinks along to its grand closing, and the first half of the album concludes with “So Real”, probably my personal favorite. (If you get the opportunity, check out the video on YouTube, it’s just plain weird.) Eerie, and yet gorgeous.

The second half starts with the most angelic, regal, painful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” ever done before or since. Several artists have tried to cover it based on Buckley’s version, but none have achieved what he did, which should be the reason for the album title. Buckley achieves pure GRACE on this track. Amazing, and, it’s hard to follow, but somehow he does. “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” gives country –folk alternative its best jilted lover song EVER. This is followed by his rendition of the traditional “Corpus Christi Carol”. This short, under-3 minute song creates crystal from music. It is immediately taken over by “Eternal Life”, which I could never tell if it was about vampirism or the dangers of being a drug addict. Whichever, it’s amazing as well. The weakest link on the album is probably the closer, “Dream Brother”, but that’s probably because as a live performance, that song is so much stronger than it is on the album. It’s still a very good song, and works perfectly as a closer to all that we’ve heard.

OVERALL ON THIS RELEASE: Out of a possible ten? I know I might make it hard for other albums reviewed in the future, but this one is hands down a TEN. People who don’t even like rock music should own this. My mother and father both liked this album, and they are NOT modern music fans. Worth the investment, and then some.