In 1994 Jeff Buckley released his debut, and due to his untimely death in 1996, his only studio album. At the time my musical tastes were in a different corner and I merely acknowledged that Grace appeared in many ‘Best Albums of the Year’ lists, including #1 in Mojo magazine. But I didn’t read any reviews and didn’t knowingly hear any tracks.
Initially album sales didn’t match the critical acclaim. But like many others I was a late-comer to Grace. In 2006, British Hit Singles & Albums and NME organised a poll of which, 40,000 people worldwide voted for the 100 best albums ever and Grace was placed at #23 on the list. If ever an album suffered by being released ‘out of time’ with the music trends of the day, Jeff Buckley’s Grace is it.
Four singles were released in 1995 (Grace, Last Goodbye, So Real & Eternal Life) but like the album, all failed to make the UK Top 40 which leads me to think I wasn’t the only one to believe the timing was wrong rather than the music of Jeff Buckley. In 1994 the UK music scene was blabbering on about the BritPop war between Blur and Oasis and how Suede was better than I could ever imagine.
My first son was born in 1995 and sometime before and after I appeared to spend more time in Mothercare and the Early Learning Centre than I did in any music shops. It was therefore with outstretched arms that I welcomed the saviour of online music file sharing. While pretending to work in my office I was able to listen to music… again. I’m not quite sure when I first listened to Grace but I do remember downloading it as I was intrigued to know what Tim Buckley’s son sounded like. Thereafter I went out and bought the CD, underlining the argument that online music file sharing doesn’t always lead to musicians going penniless, but that’s for another article.
Because of its popularity after it was originally released, I’m assuming others had a similar experience to me that when I was in the right frame of mind to listen to Grace, it really blew my mind.
The album begins with Mojo Pin drifting around like a ship lost in the mist, gradually appearing only to drift away again into something mystical. Then it surges forward with thunder and crashing waves as it lands on the shore with a final burst of energy.
Mojo Pin is nothing like any other song from the 1990’s that I have listened to. In fact it’s difficult to say which decade it belongs too. This can be said for much of the album. Both voice and music has a theatrical rock sound that possibly owes more to the 1970’s. But now I am listening, its clear Jeff Buckley’s voice is truly something special, just like his father.
The album continues with the beautiful warm warbling of the title track Grace. Buckley’s voice is infectious, beautiful and full of life. Listening again tonight to the track Grace, I can clearly hear the progressive rock and over-the-top operatic references made by Muse and The Darkness, among others.
Last Goodbye is my favourite song on the album. A truly beautiful pop song complete with a full string accompaniment that perfectly melds with this pop song about love. Again Buckley hits a vocal range that I have only heard from one other artist, Tim Buckley.
Four songs in, and another surprising element to Grace is the choice and inclusion of several cover versions. Whether Jeff Buckley didn’t feel he had enough quality self-penned songs to complete Grace or he really didn’t care less for the rules of what he should and shouldn’t include on a debut album.
The album takes its first twist and change in mood with the inclusion of Lilac Wine, a slow ballad written in 1950, it was originally a UK hit single for Elkie Brooks in 1978 but had previously been recorded by other female singers including Eartha Kitt & Nina Simone.
From a ballad the album picks up the tempo with one of the most rocking tracks on the album, So Real which like previous tracks has its soft, loud, soft moments in a post-Nirvana world and ends with Jeff Buckley’s trademark screeching and warbling.
Next the album drops once more with a version of Leonard Cohen’s beautiful song, Hallelujah (from Lenard Cohen’s 1984 album ‘Various Positions’. Buckley based his version not on Cohen’s recording but John Cale’s version which includes a different arrangement and lyrics.
Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah gained popularity in December 2008 when it was re-released on the back of the X Factor winner Alexandra Burke’s version which kept it from becoming the Christmas no.1.
Lover, You Should Have Come Over sits between Hallelujah and the most surprising of all cover versions on Grace. Who else would have included the hymn Corpus Christi Carol, let alone got away with it! If this song was included for no other reason than as for Jeff Buckley to impress with his angelic voice, then it works.
Eternal Life has a post-grunge angst about it. In fact it wouldn’t sound out of place on a Pearl Jam album; and following the high standards of the previous eight tracks I’m afraid it’s probably the albums’ weakest link which is down to the timid production. There’s a much improved, more raucous live version on the bonus CD of the Grace – Legacy Edition (see below) which unleashes the track like a wild animal that sounds drugged on opiates on the original album.
The final track of the album, Dream Brother begins with a snake charming middle-eastern vibe. The sound swirls like a smoke-filled haze. Dream Brother drifts off into a completely different place for the final five minutes of the album; and after hearing live recordings where the group play the song with more venom and power, like Eternal Life, the album version sounds weak in comparison and doesn’t do the song justice. However, on hearing the original album for the first time, the songs sounded great to me.
Over the past 10 years Grace hasn’t strayed far from my home CD player and occasionally makes its way into the car, too. It is a classic album where the music perfectly complements one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. It’s a classic album by virtue of the fact that like other albums including The Beatles’ Let It Be, London Calling by The Clash and Led Zeppelin II I have never got tired of playing the album in its entirety.
In 2004 Grace was re-released with a bonus CD of alternate versions and unreleased cover versions including the MC5’s Kick Out The Jams, Bob Dylan’s Mama, You Been On My Mind and great versions of Robert Johnson’s Preachin’ The Blues and Leiber & Stoller’s Alligator Wine (the latter sung in the spirit of Captain Beefheart).
Unlike other posthumous re-issues which are clearly nothing more than a money-making venture, the bonus CD is well worthy of a few extra pounds of your money.
Legacy also includes a DVD with a short film – The Making of Grace and five promo videos for Grace, Last Goodbye, So Real, Eternal Life and Forget Her.
Jeff Buckley – Grace (Original album)
1. ”Mojo Pin” (Jeff Buckley/Gary Lucas)
2. ”Grace” (Jeff Buckley/Gary Lucas)
3. ”Last Goodbye” (Jeff Buckley)
4. ”Lilac Wine” (James Shelton)
5. ”So Real” (Jeff Buckley/Michael Tighe)
6. ”Hallelujah” (Leonard Cohen, arr. Jeff Buckley)
7. ”Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”
8. ”Corpus Christi Carol” (Traditional/Benjamin Britten)
9. ”Eternal Life” (Jeff Buckley)
10. ”Dream Brother” (Jeff Buckley/Mick Grondahl/Matt Johnson)
Grace – Legacy Edition Bonus CD
1. ”Forget Her” (Jeff Buckley)
2. ”Dream Brother” (Alternate Take)
3. ”Lost Highway” (Leon Payne)
4. ”Alligator Wine” (Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller)
5. ”Mama, You Been on My Mind” (Bob Dylan)
6. ”Parchman Farm Blues/Preachin’ Blues” (Bukka White/Robert Johnson)
7. ”The Other Woman” (Jessie Mae Robinson)
8. ”Kanga-Roo” (Alex Chilton)
9. ”I Want Someone Badly” (with Shudder to Think) (Nathan Larson)
10. ”Eternal Life” (Road Version)
11. ”Kick Out the Jams” (Live) (MC5)
12. ”Dream Brother” (Nag Champa Mix)
13. ”Strawberry Street” (Jeff Buckley/Andrew Goodsight/John McNally)
Jeff Buckley recorded Grace with Mick Grondahl (bass), Michael Tighe (guitar) and Matt Johnson (drums).