Review Summary: Music from another state of mind, body, and spirit
Technical ability in the music world can only take you to a certain point before something unexplainable from outside the four walls of a practice room, or perhaps from deep within the musician occupying the room, has to take over and lead you the rest of the way. You can call it “soul” or “spirit”, or maybe it’s something otherworldly that inspires the artist. Whatever it might be, this force coupled with outstanding technique is what truly great musicians are made of. This force guides the fingers across the fretboard, tugs at the vocal cords, and controls every musical step of the artist. Jeff Buckley, I believe, is unquestionably one of those artists who was in complete control of this force.
Buckley’s one and only full-length LP (he died during the recording process of his second album) was not a big hit, nor was it widely known about during his lifetime. However, the album has since managed to worm its way into the heart of ‘90s rock and has attained widespread recognition and acclaim, which it has rightfully attained. Grace is an extraordinary piece of work that unites singer/songwriter keenness with a glossy coating of soulful passion that can’t merely be achieved through countless hours of practice or a degree in music theory. As was mentioned before, there’s something else that’s at work here to result an album so delightful and masterfully executed. Grace succeeds where so many rock albums have failed in this sense; it gives us a set of excellent tunes but also bears the soul of the artist to all who listen, making it a loveable and personal affair with the power to ensnare anyone in its wake. The album stirs the emotions of its listeners, and as soon as Jeff’s mesmerizing voice gently floats through your speakers, you’ll begin to see what I mean when I say that an “otherworldly” force is was present here.
Jeff Buckley was a singer who had a tremendous amount of range that extended three and a half, maybe even four octaves, but it’s the breadth of emotion that he used to coat each and every note of every octave that he can sing that made him a truly special talent. Sure, his falsetto was unbeatable, and he could hold a note for two weeks if he needed to (listen to the title track for an example) but gawking at the technical aspects of his voice doesn’t allow for the full appreciation of Jeff and his music. His voice evokes a feeling out of the listener that’s hard to satisfactorily put into words, and his technique is just the vehicle he uses to get himself there. Just listen to the gorgeous “Corpus Christi Carol” where he sings accompanied only by his guitar, yet he still surpasses any band with as many as nine musicians in it. Similarly, his award-worthy rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” shows how anyone can sound impressive with a full band behind him, but all a truly great artist needs to do is pick up an instrument, open his/her mouth to sing, and blow us all away, which is what Buckley does here perfectly. Of course, the addition of a backing band doesn’t hurt, nor does it crowd Buckley out of the album’s spotlight. Tracks with full instrumentation such as “Mojo Pin” and “Last Goodbye” give Buckley an extra push that wasn’t present on his previously released Live at Sin-e EP which featured him as the only musician. Jangly, bell-like telecaster guitars and warm bass fit the mellow style of this record, that is, until you arrive at the surprisingly heavy “Eternal Life”, the album’s only “rocker” which features distorted power chords and soloing by Buckley. After the ethereal “Dream Brother” closes out the record, it’s sad to think that it was only the first, as well as the last full-length to be released by such an intriguing and truly special talent.
With one album, Jeff Buckley established himself as a visionary artist and a true original in the ‘90s alternative music scene, and in rock music as a whole. In terms of widespread popularity and impact during his lifetime, will he go down as one of the most influential artists of his generation alongside, say, Kurt Cobain? Maybe not. But will he go down as one of the most talented artists of his generation? That is for certain. When it comes to Grace, just listen, feel, and reflect on the man who made the music and, possibly, reflect on your own life as well. Grace is a treat for the ears as well as for the soul, thank you Jeff, and rest in peace.