Buckley, Full of Grace

It seems as though death has the unfortunate ability to elevate many records from mere songs to the Holy Scripture of the Alternative World. Case and point, last week’s Nick Drake and this week’s Jeff Buckley. Jeffrey Scott Buckley, born in 1966 to Mary Guibert and singer-songwriter Tim Buckley Guibert, released only one album in his lifetime, appropriately titled Grace, before drowning tragically at the age of 31 while swimming on May 29, 1997. Yet, the strength of this one album alone establishes Jeff Buckley as one of the most naturally gifted musicians the world has ever seen with one of the most dynamic, powerful voices in rock history. Jeff had the singular ability to showcase strong, tenacious hard rock vocals, while bringing the listener to tears with delicate, classic beauty, as exemplified in the aria-like performance of “Corpus Christi Carol.” His range has yet to be matched, and it is unlikely that it ever will be. The album begins with Buckley softly cooing as “Mojo Pin” fades in. The track is built on tension, building and descending. With each swoop, Buckley’s voice provides the jaw-dropping white cap to the wave. Yet, “Mojo Pin” is only a small taste of his abilities. They come to fruition on the classic title cut that follows. If anyone needed proof as to why Jeff Buckley is a big deal, “Grace” provides all of the evidence necessary. He soars and gnashes his way through the song’s five and a half minutes, which culminating in the climactic final minute, where Buckley lets loose a mind-boggling twelve second scream places him alongside the greats like Robert Plant, Freddie Mercury, and Roger Daltrey as one of Rock’s truly outstanding vocal talents. The sound of Grace as a whole can best be described as a mix between The Bends-era Radiohead (Buckley’s influence on the band is illustrated by Radiohead’s “High & Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees”) and Van Morrison. Buckley embraces both the timeless art of the singer-songwriter and the best sounds of the post-grunge era. Although there is not even the faintest sign of filler anywhere on Buckley’s album, the album’s zenith is his cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” He gives a passion and magnificence to Cohen’s classic that made the song unmistakably and instantly Buckley’s own. This is not to say that Buckley was not within the capacity to pen brilliant material. In fact, he wrote or co-wrote almost the entire album, including some of the album’s most memorable cuts, such as the aforementioned Grace, the bittersweet Last Goodbye, and my personal favorite, Lover, You Should’ve Come Over. The song features the intensely touching and profound lyrics: It’s never over, All my blood for the sweetness of her laughter. It’s never over, She’s the tear that hangs inside my soul forever. I feel too young to hold on And too old to just break free and run. “Corpus Christi Carol” and “Eternal Life” serve as a two-punch knockout of Buckley’s unbelievable range. “Corpus Christi Carol” is as delicate and angelic as one can imagine a male vocal performance to be, and, for all intents and purposes, is a modern three-minute aria. Immediately following the sublime beauty of “Corpus Christi Carol” is the gritty, aggressive “Eternal Life,” complete with snarling lyrics and powerhouse, strong singing. The fact that Buckley can marry these two tracks next to each other and actually pull it off is a testament to the wide and awe-inspiring scope of his talents. Grace comes to a close with the epic “Dream Brother,” which contains many references to Buckley’s father. Buckley and his father never had a strong relationship since Buckley’s father abandoned his pregnant mother. He may have left behind an enormous amount of unfulfilled promises away during the recording of his second album, to be titled “My Sweetheart The Drunk,” in 1997. Nevertheless, the strength of Grace alone easily places Jeff Buckley in the category of one of the most talented musicians of all time. Hallelujah, indeed.