Jeff Buckley

Grace (Columbia ‘94) Rating: A+
Dominated by Buckley’s sultry voice, Grace was an amazing debut album that resounds with an even greater impact since Buckley tragically drowned before ever finishing album number two. Though there will always be obvious comparisons to father Tim (an acclaimed cult artist from the late ‘60s/early ‘70s who also died far too young), Jeff’s melodramatic (some would say pretentious) vocal phrasings also owe a debt to Van Morrison, Robert Plant, and the Pakistani singer Nasret Fateh Ali Khan, which is fitting considering the exotic Middle-Eastern flavor that’s present on many of these songs. But Buckley ultimately sheds his influences with his own otherworldly grace, dramatically creating a beautifully romantic world while revealing himself to be an artist with staggering ambitions who generally meets his own high expectations. Surreal images and poetic passages such as “it’s never over, she is the tear that hangs inside my soul forever” enhance the majesty of the music, which approaches a Zep-like intensity at times. Buckley sets no boundaries in his wonderfully bombastic pursuit of lasting art, which enables him to veer from heartbreaking peaks such as “Last Goodbye” to the crunching rock of “Eternal Life” without ever completely abandoning the album’s ethereal overall mood. The terrific title track is a quietly epic showcase that features soaring lead guitar alongside Buckley’s brilliant vocal gymnastics, yet he’s also able to carefully caress each lyric of “Lilac Wine,” a beautifully basic torch song previously associated with Nina Simone. A regal reading of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and an almost operatic “Corpus Christi Carol” (written by Benjamin Britten) are other choice cover songs, but (aside from “Hallelujah” which is the definitive version of the song) his own compositions are arguably even better. The atmospheric album opener “Mojo Pin,” the evocative albeit briefly atonal “So Real,” and the funereal “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” prove this fact in no uncertain terms, while “Dream Brother” prophetically closes out an instant classic with the unforgettable parting line: “asleep in the sand, with the ocean washing over me.”

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