Jeff Buckley – Grace – Columbia Records (1994)/ Original Recordings Group (2014) ORG 194/8883784201S1, 51:44 audiophile 45 rpm stereo vinyl (2 discs) *****:
(Jeff Buckley – guitar, organ, Appalachian dulcimer, harmonium, tabla, vocals; Mike Grondahl – bass; Loris Holland – organ; Matt Johnson – drums, percussion, vibraphone; Gary Lucas – guitar; Misha Masud – tabla; Michael Tighe – guitar; Karl Berger – string arrangements)
Jeff Buckley was born into a musical family. His mother was a trained, classical musician and his father Tim was a well known folk musician. However, Buckley never knew his father (but performed at a benefit concert in 1991). His stepfather introduced him to the albums of classic rock bands, including Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Pink Floyd. He paid some dues on the Hollywood club scene and moved to New York.
Eventually he composed with Gary Lucas and signed with Columbia Records. He became renowned for his live performance of diverse material, from Bob Dylan, Edith Piaf, Robert Johnson, The Smiths, Elton John, Leonard Cohen, Bad Brains and Siouxsie Sioux. His first full length album Grace was released in 1994 to critical acclaim and lukewarm sales. However, veteran rock and roll artists heaped praise on the album, and some momentum was initiated. While recording the follow up My Sweetheart The Drunk, he died in an accidental drowning on May 29, 1997.
ORG has re-mastered Buckley’s seminal Grace to audiophile 45 rpm vinyl. It epitomizes alternative rock with a broad spectrum of musical influences. Side A opens (“Mojo Pin”) with a gently swirling guitar. Soon Buckley’s high register tenor joins in a mystical, psychedelic glow. There is obsessive imagery. He and co-writer Gary Lucas (who also recorded the song on his CD, Level The Playing Field) are a formidable songwriting team. There are hard rock interludes, and the plaintive vocals are moving. The title track (also written by this duo) was the first single from the album. It has a hard-strumming acoustic vibe (a rocked out waltz-time) and creates a full, rich aural environment with layered vocals and string accompaniment. Buckley’s voice, including falsetto, is emotional and lyrical. Side B contains the second single, “Last Goodbye”. This is more of a straight rock effort (with some Zeppelin-esque verve) but is bolstered by the prevailing counter-string orchestration of this era. The first cover “Lilac Wine” is ear-catching. Previously recorded by Nina Simone, Buckley delivers an evocative, deliberate take that is original. His vocal range is impressive and has operatic nuances.
Another cover is a hushed version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. It is believed that Buckley was influenced by the 1991 tribute version of John Cale. It is reverential and one of the best Cohen interpretations, just guitar and that exquisite voice. Laid-back and intense, he demonstrates great vocal range. Buckley’s introspective side is explored on the relationship opus, “Lover You Should’ve Come Over”. Organ shading and soulful wailing give this song a ruminating melancholy. Buckley’s voice is amazing, but it is downright otherworldly on the Early Modern Christmas hymn “Corpus Christi Carol”. It is rendered in soaring falsetto (most of it). This is an imaginative selection for this album, and speaks to the eclectic sensibility of this artist. The following track, “Eternal Life” (one of the Grace songs that appeared on the 1993 EP Live At Sin-e) couldn’t be more different. Jagged guitar licks and a howling delivery characterize this angry narrative. Heading in yet another direction, “Dream Brother” is a hypnotic, foreboding composition, but with a pop chorus and ethereal, rich instrumentation.
ORG continues to set a high standard with 45 rpm mastering done by Bernie Grundman. The shimmering tonality of the guitars is captured with fluidity and delicate texture. Buckley’s voice is showcased in its power and fragility. Even the falsetto passages sound pure. This audiophile vinyl is comparable to many SACD recordings. Grace is memorable for its unpredictable verve and excellent production. It is the only complete studio album by Jeff Buckley, and has stood the test of time. [The Amazon link is for an earlier vinyl since they don’t handle the very expensive 45 rpm vinyl…Ed.]
TrackList:Side A: Mojo Pin; Grace Side B: Last Goodbye; Lilac Wine; So Real Side C: Hallelujah; Lover; You Should’ve Come Over Side D: Corpus Christi Carol; Eternal Life; Dream Brother