[sic] Magazine

Jeff Buckley – Grace (1994)

“His imagination was flying, flying way, way out there, beyond, beyond. Jeff Buckley was one of the greatest losses of all” . The words of Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin have been often quoted when it comes to the late Jeffrey Scott Buckley , the son of the folk rock icon Tim Buckley , and a singer who Page also thought to be the best he had heard for two decades. Listening to all his work again over the past months you remain struck by what could have been, but also the need to properly celebrate the great music that we have. At one point in the thrilling album that Buckley recorded in a small New York Cafe Live at Sin-E someone mentions Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in the audience. Buckley delights in this describing him as “my Elvis” and proceeds to play ‘Yeh Jo Halka Saroor Hae’ and just for good measure sings it in Urdu with what sounds like a host of guitars carrying three melodic and rhythmic lines side by side. Only occasionally does a talent the size of Jeff Buckley come along.

It is said that Jimi Hendrix once had the audacity to ask to jam with Cream and afterwards Jack Bruce commented that “Eric Clapton was a guitarist and Hendrix a force of nature” . Buckley is our generations Hendrix but this time it is through the use of the voice as an instrument. The impact of Grace for many Buckley fans is to question whether we will ever hear an album so jaw dropping in its impact again and also a futile investigation into just about everything he recorded in an allusive attempt to discover whether further alchemy exists hidden away in some dark recording vault. Grace however remains the real deal, it is fully fledged and the total package. There is a point in ‘Lover you should come over’ when Buckley scales crescendo after crescendo with a voice that could range easily over three and a half octaves. At about six minutes in you feel exhausted and satisfied knowing that he has just hit the absolute outer reaches of his range. Of course Buckley then proceeds to go higher in a song which shows his unique song-writing skills (quite why Jamie Callum attempted to cover this song remains one of life’s great mysteries).

Opener ‘Mojo Pin’ builds gently and has some distinct Eastern mystic references until it evolves into Led Zeppelin style power chords to take it to the finish line. Buckley performs extraordinary vocal gymnastics throughout and then follows it a track later with possibly his greatest song ‘The Last Goodbye’. Today even after over 10 years the way Buckley sings the final verse hits like a fist with its regretful beauty and lyrical intensity. As he states “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, it’s over.” Grace as an album is a fully complete work and absolutely inspired. His cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ is by the scale of the Pacific Ocean the definitive version of the song which Buckley effectively revived; even Rufus Wainwright can’t come close. In particular the way at the end of the song he stretches out the `u’ for what seems like an eternity sends chills throughout your body. Think also the majestically fragile version of Brittan’s ‘Corpus Christi Carol’ where the vocal control is almost unearthly. So to on the epic version of ‘Lilac Wine’ and the uber powerful title track. The mystery of why the break up ballad ‘Forget her’ was inexplicably left off the original album remains although it’s now included on various legacy editions. A nod in addition to Buckley’s band particularly Mick Grondahl on bass and Michael Tighe on guitar who never get their due credit.

Ultimately there is absolutely no need to turn Buckley’s life into some tragic mausoleum or create a deity. Some of his musical output was dire, he could be indulgent and over precocious, while sometimes his lyrics suggest too much time spent in the library at Art College. Despite its unfinished nature and its broad excellence there are clues that the songs he was working on for his second album collected on the retrospective Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk didn’t quite match the peerless quality of Grace . Yet he was determined not to produce Grace II and it remains a uncompleted work although ‘Morning theft’ and the wonderful ‘Opened once’ are heart wrenching examples of his art. In the final summation the one thing of which we are sure is that Grace is forever etched into history, a shining, beautiful moment that captured an otherworldly voice at its absolute pinnacle.