There are records of high intensity which make a strong social/political statement and there are those that lay open the artist’s heart – bleeding and throbbing. Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’ belongs to the latter category. That intensity paired with a voice like sunlight shimmer on a high, cold mountain stream thrills me still.
This is one dark album with recurrent themes of obsession and addiction (and those two form one of the world’s best, albeit destructive, doubles teams, don’t they?). ‘Mojo Pin’ starts the ball rolling at a deceptive gentle pace only to turn into a wrecker ball by the end. Then the title track itself, ‘Grace’. Its prophetic lines ‘It’s my time coming/ I’m not afraid, afraid to die‘ brings to mind the original cover art of Lynrd Skynrd’s album ‘Street Survivors’ released just before that plane crash destroyed the band.
This album is loaded with terrific songs like the sublime ‘Corpus Christi Carol’ showcasing Buckley’s ability to reach for the high notes which makes way for the visceral rocker ‘Eternal Life’ (the irony is inescapable).
My personal favourites though out of this bunch are ‘Lilac Wine’ and ‘Lover You Should’ve Come Over’. ‘Lilac Wine’ harks back to an earlier era of music with its pop-jazz tone. Savour these lines:
I make wine from the lilac tree
Put my heart in the recipe
I drink more than I want to drink
Because it brings me back you
Lilac wine sweet and heady
Like my love
Lilac wine I feel unsteady
Like my love
Lilac wine I feel unready
For my love
A love unreachable, a man spiraling down into darkness fully aware what’s speeding him along.
And then there’s that gem ‘Lover You Should’ve Come Over’ with its beautiful organ opening and the voice of a passionate lover – sometimes petulant, often longing, beseeching.
Broken down and hungry for your love
But no way to feed it
It’s never over
My kingdom for a kiss
Upon her shoulder
It’s never over
All my riches for her smile
All my blood for the sweetness
Of her laughter
This was an album that has achieved iconic status since Buckley’s death just a few years after its release. ‘Grace’ richly deserves that status. The tragedy lies in the fact that it took death to get it there. In what can only be a coincidence, Jeff Buckley’s musician father, Tim died young too at 28.
This is a song-writer’s album and it highlights one of rock’s great voices. It’s not perfect – is anything ever? But if there was just one album that I could make, it would be this.
Ah yes, about ‘Hallelujah’. Much has been said, written and discussed about Buckley’s version in this album of Leonard Cohen’s brilliant song – mostly in excessively glowing terms. I’m not quite as impressed – there it is, I’ve said it. Not sure exactly what it is. I think on this one he let his voice run away, tried to do too much with it. I personally prefer Rufus Wainright’s version. That one makes my hair stand on end.
The audio file here has samples of all the songs listed above in the order of mention. The last one is a sample of Rufus Wainright’s version of ‘Hallelujah’.