If you haven’t heard his name, then I’m about to tell you of an artist who swooped down through Earth for a meagre 30 years, to leave one album – a masterpiece – for listeners to cherish for centuries. It was as if his sole purpose in life was to create this one piece of artistic and sensual brilliance. To me, Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’, is one of the most important and influential albums ever.
I remember the first time I heard him sing. After a swim at a friend’s house when I was just 13 years old, there was music playing. A strange voice, ridiculously high in pitch but sung with such beauty it was mind blowing. I actually thought it was a female. I immediately asked who the artist was, and was told ‘Jeff Buckley’. To my own detriment, it would be years before I would obtain a copy of the album and really immerse myself in Buckley’s world.
As a kid, Buckley would wander around the house singing in harmony with his mother, a classically trained pianist. He started playing guitar age 5, and joined various jazz bands and other acts during his late teens. His absolutely magnificent voice was crafted over years and years of practise and training, culminating in that perfect four-range tenor voice we hear on the record. He grew up listening to the classics – Zeppelin, Queen, Floyd et al – and soon found love in progressive rock – Yes, Rush, Genesis etc – who’s influence can be heard tinged throughout his debut record.
‘Grace’ opens with the moody and brooding yet unabashed ‘Mojo Pin‘. Making full use of his lower register, Buckley stirs and weaves through the opening verses with such an intense bravado that you can’t help but pay attention. As the song progresses, Buckley demonstrates his fantastic sense of dynamic to slowly build towards a finale that hears his voice scream through the last minute or so, showcasing close to the full range of his vocal prowess in a close-to-6-minute epic.
Buckley transcends genre. Throughout the album we can identify progressive rock. We hear soul, blues and jazz. We are introduced to gospel. Occasionally we hear these influences encompass a single track (the absolutely outstanding ‘Lover, You Should Have Come Over’). What is so beautiful about the album is how modestly Buckley has crafted this genre-bending art. Songs like ‘Corpus Christi Carol’ and ‘Eternal Life’ just don’t belong on an album together, but somehow through Buckley’s voice, he can reel in the listener and make them believe that prog rock and gospel can live together in precious harmony! What a wonderful talent.
Buckley will,however, always be remembered best for singing someone else’s song. ‘Hallelujah’ was originally recorded by the late, great Leonard Cohen back in the early 80’s, but given the full Buckley treatment in the mid 90’s. A magnificent and emotional journey through pitch perfect falsetto vocal and reverb infused arpeggiated electric guitar. Every element of Buckley’s immense gift is on display in this song, and I would suggest that this makes the song perfect for his legacy to live through.
For me, the title track of the album is what I will remember him best by. Another close-to-6-minute odyssey that showcases the unwavering heights of Buckley’s singing – up to a high G towards the end! – but also displays his fantastic guitar abilities. If you’re a guitar player, that arpeggiated intro riff is a doozie! It’s not just the range of his vocals that is so impressive. It’s insane and ferocious, but also calm and truthful. Every time I hear this song I am simply blown away by his vocal propensity. Buckley was born to sing, and born to do it in a way that no one has done before, but that everyone would try to emulate after. I can’t recommend this song (or album) enough. Just brilliant.
Jeff Buckley died in an accidental drowning at the age of 30, and it has been quoted by numerous sources at the time that to the music world, this was as heavy a loss, if not more so, than when Kurt passed. As I was doing some research, I was simply astounded by the amount of celebrities and musicians who praise Buckley and his magnum opus. David Bowie rated ‘Grace’ the most important album ever recorded! Similarly, both Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin rated it their album of the 90’s, which is huge considering the calibre of artists releasing great music at that time. Countless artists wrote tracks about how Buckley’s death affected them personally (Glen Hansard, Rufus Wainwright, Coldplay, PJ Harvey, Chris Cornell and Pete Yorn to name a few). The legacy that he has left will live on for a lifetime.
‘Grace’ is rated as one of the greatest albums of all time, and I could not agree more. If you haven’t heard the album, or even if you have, please please please – take an hour out of your day, lie in your bed or sit in your favourite chair with some headphones on, and be completely captivated by the most significant solo artist we’ve ever known.
“There’s an undercurrent to his music, there’s something you can’t pinpoint. Like the best of films, or the best of art, there’s something going on underneath, and there’s a truth there. And I find his stuff absolutely haunting. It just… it’s under my skin.”