“Grace” is Jeff Buckley’s first and only album to be released in his lifetime.
Here is my review for the album:
The reason why this is actually the greatest male solo album of all time, is because no other album on earth has such a perfect harmony of so many genres of music – rock, pop, jazz, neo-soul, and even sufi melodies.
I can safely say that twenty years from now, “Grace” will be hailed as probably the most important cultural document arising out of the rock movement of the 1900s. The passion here is more palpable that anything put out by say, The Beatles or Eric Clapton (geniuses in their own right). Its one thing to here people say “Oh, this is the greatest album ever!” and “Best Album of all time!”, or when fans go “This makes the entire catalog of The Rolling Stones look like kindergarten!” – but that, dear reader, is the happy reality of this album – its better than almost all of the artists mentioned above. It really is.
If you’re new to Jeff Buckley, heres a quick rundown of what this album actually sounds like – take a 27 year old boy-man with a soaring, beautiful, jazz-suited voice, and hear him sing touching slow-rock songs, and some unlikely covers (“Lilac Wine” by Nina Simone, “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen). The voice is the instrument here. Production is flawless. He can sound like a little girl whose hearts’ been broken for the first time, or a 70 year old singing from wisdom and experience – all on one song. If that isn’t amazing, what is?
For years now, I’ve held that Tori Amos’ “Scarlet’s Walk” is the greatest album ever recorded. Well, musically and conforming to my tastes, I’d have to say that the Amos album still ranks high on my list. But I listened to “Grace” when it first released in 1994, and its been a friend to me since then. What an experience that was, me as a gangly 17 year old with headphones on to shut the rest of the world of – Jeff Buckley was easy to idolize when you’re that age, but what I didn’t count on was this album becoming a permanent fixture in my life even in my thirties. I guess `timeless’ would be the word, but I don’t want to use adjectives here that I would use for just any other album.
Many Tori Amos fans seem to love this album as well, even though Tori is a completely different sort of performer. While Amos sings primarily of life through her eyes (fair enough), Buckley reaches out to you and sings about YOUR life, which is something that not many singer-songwriters are capable of doing.
If you haven’t heard this before, lucky you! I can only imagine the goosebumps you’re gonna get when you slide this CD into your player and hear the opening verse of “Mojo Pin”, Track 1. The title track is a bonafide classic, but its on “Lilac Wine” that this album finally finds its wings and soars. How can a human voice sound like this, you ask yourself. If heaven was packaged in a three minute track on a CD, this would be it. Nothing can come close, and if the original songwriter were alive today I can only imagine his amazement at what it has been transformed to in Buckley’s hands. Another ancient lyrics “Corpus Christi Carol” is just as stunning.
Jeff Buckley died in 1997. Since then, this album has been hailed as a classic, but I find this to be quite cheap and derogatory, because its too easy to hail something once an artist is dead. I mean, I did like Nirvana, but lost all interest in them after their catalog was plundered and sold out to commercial gain upon Kurts’ death. Thankfully, that hasn’t quite happened to Jeff (though we have had a few posthumous releases, not of the magnitude of Nirvana, however), because Jeff was only starting his career and there wasn’t a whole lot available to readily release. His estate, now in his mothers’ hands, have released some Live albums, a double-CD of his unfinished work, and a DVD, but nothing compares to “Grace” which is the only album he released in his lifetime.
You know, in this world, its hard to find a thing of beauty that retains its’ power and hold over you. Friends come and go, relationships fade away, and family sometimes isn’t all its cut out to be. I find that music has been my sole companion through most of lifes’ ups and downs, and “Grace” has been a constant support. In times of highs or lows, all I need to do is to listen to “Lilac Wine” or “Eternal Life” and its’ as if fresh new liquid energy is being poured into me by some divine entity (well, the experience is other-worldly, for sure). But more than that, it’s a thing of wonder that a record soon celebrating fifteen years of release has been a constant soundtrack to my life, mirroring my moods and emotions, and being the best friend through it all. For this, I can only thank Buckley. I bet even he didn’t know what he was creating.
The new version of “Grace” is entitled the “Legacy Edition” and I highly recommend you get that over the single-CD version. Yes, the single CD version is what Jeff released originally, but this new version, supervised by his mother, is what I now consider the most essential version of this album. Its my No. 1 Desert island disc (over Amos’ Scarlet’s Walk” in its’ current form). The second disc, in my opinion is not `better’ than the first disc, its just `different’.
The most beautiful new track here is the shimmering ballad “Forget Her”, which had been spoken of for years, but now that we have it, it exceeds our expectations. This has got to be the most underrated rarity of all Buckley’s work. There is also the long `Kanga Roo’, and the amazing `Mama, you be on my mind’. I must say though, that the second disc, save for Track 1, has a rougher, edgier sound, but at no point do these sound like `demos’ or `cheap live recordings’ as many people assume them to be. In fact, even though it probably didn’t go through the multi-layered studio instrumentation as the first disc did, the second is just as well produced and impeccably put together, and is a worthy addition to the catalog. For those of us who were fans of the original CD, this new Legacy Edition is the most glorious musical occasion in recent memory.
The Legacy Edition, while bestowing the album with the greater respect it deserves, also offers us a DVD with all Jeff’s official music videos, with a documentary thrown in as well. This definitive 3-Disc package is the way to go, if you need to get “Grace”.
Throughout my life, I’ve always been fascinated and felt kinship toward Buckley due to his obsession and love for Sufism and the Qawwali genre of music. He was a follower of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and in fact, one of Nusrat’s posthumous releases is even dedicated to Buckley. While “Grace” does not have any songs of this nature, I find that Buckley’s voice is strangely very “exotic” sounding in places, almost as if he were channeling a Moslem preacher from the wilds of the Afghan highlands (I’m sure Jeff would consider this a compliment). Listen to this album again, and note what I’m saying here – his voice is just so adaptable and I think that he channels Nusrat in more than a few places on this record. Now, this is a fabulous experience, and I only understood the relevance of this years later, when I read an interview that Buckley did with Nusrat during a US tour. Jeff also lists Patti Smith (one of my musical gurus) as one of his icons (he even toured with her at one point), and her influence upon his music is quite evident (traces of her debut album are present through strains of “Grace”).
Let me not mince words – “Grace” is the best thing to happen to the world of music, since, well… ever. This is one album that not many people know about, but those who do most certainly live a charmed life upon possession of this record. If your musical inclinations and `best-ofs’ lie with “Abbey Road” and “The White Album”, well, what can I say. You’ve certainly missed out on what is obviously the true blueprint for what music ought to be based on. This is genre bending, music-revolutionizing stuff here, and you should do yourself a favor and just buy this.
I would also highly recommend the new Legacy Edition of “Live at Sin-E”, which is actually Jeff’s first album. It was released early on as an EP, and now has been extended into a mega two-hour event. What a treat! Other than the usual tracks, the standout for me on this record is “Yeh Jo Halka Halka Suroor Hain”, which was incidentally the first song by Khan that Jeff ever heard. I would say that if you’re reading this review, check out the link above to this Live set, and add to your cart. I know that it’s a pretty obvious endorsement, but I’d really like you to get both these Legacy Edition records and listen to them. These are records you NEED to own.
To sum things up, what we have here is the Greatest Male Solo Record of all time. It breaks new ground, reinvents a whole new genre, and introduces you to the most beautiful male voice I have ever heard. I cannot recommend this album highly enough.
If Music were Religion, consider this your Bible.
Five Stars – Jeff Buckley, you will be missed.