Each person possesses an album that can deliver them to a vivid memory or a meaningful encounter. Songs are scents in the sense that they can evoke worlds, specific places, and moments, bringing them to mind with great clarity. My two cents.
I was first introduced to Jeff Buckley in the summer of 1999, not long after his drowning but 5 years after the release of Buckley’s debut album. It would be another amazing recommendation from Joe. We were driving down St. Charles Ave. in the middle of the day on a Saturday, windows and sunroof down in his 4 Runner. Beautiful day and who knows what kind of mischief we were plotting. He had a mixed CD in and “Last Goodbye” came on. I remember him yelling, “Yes! Oh dude, get ready, you are going to love this.” And then he cranked it so loud anyone in the next few blocks could hear us and the amazing vibrato of Buckley belting, “Did you say ‘No, this can’t happen to me!” What a moment. I bought the album soon after and it was in constant rotation for the next decade. But back to 1999.
When it came time to head back to South Carolina for the Fall semester, the whole radio and CD player in my own 4Runner had broken so I had to listen to a Discman with headphones the whole 675 mile trip. I can’t remember how many times I listened to this album on that trip. I finally arrived at my apartment, unpacked my stuff and headed over to the fraternity hall. I walked into my buddy Jason Barnes room and just like Joe, he yells, “BROTHER! You gotta hear this song!” And it was “Last Goodbye.” Barnes and I would go on to listen and talk about this album throughout college. South Carolina, as I’ve mentioned before, was not exactly a school you went to discover new music. So it was a cool bond that Barnes and I would always talk about. Sadly, I received news a couple days ago (April 23, 2023) that Jason passed away of a sudden heart attack in Vietnam where he was working. Like Jeff and Jeff’s father Tim, another life lost way too young. This is the second heart attack of a close friend in the last couple of months. I wrote about my great friend and another fraternity member Jamie Grady in the previous LCD Soundsystem write-up. I’m struggling as to whether these passing of friends are unique or just what happens to you as you get into your 40s.
Each song on Grace is a mini-epic, with Buckley’s voice and guitar work taking the listener on a journey through a world of emotion and beauty. He effortlessly blends together elements of rock, jazz, folk, and more to create a sound that is uniquely his own. Buckley’s singing style is marked by an incredible amount of control and nuance. He can go from a gentle, delicate falsetto to a deep, resonant chest voice within a single phrase, and he often uses these shifts in tone to convey different emotions or moods within a song. One of the things that makes Buckley’s vocals so captivating is his use of melisma, which is the technique of singing multiple notes on a single syllable. He uses this technique throughout the album, and it gives his singing an almost hypnotic quality, drawing the listener in and holding their attention. Buckley also has a unique style of phrasing. He often stretches out words or syllables, creating a sense of tension and release that perfectly matches the emotion of the lyrics. This technique is particularly effective on tracks like “Grace” and “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”. Overall, Jeff Buckley’s vocals on Grace are a true wonder. His voice has a power and beauty that is hard to describe, and it’s no wonder that he is still regarded as one of the greatest vocalists of all time.
It’s so hard for me to try to distill down each track on this album and what each means for me. It reminds me of a quote I once heard, “that’s like telling Dostoevsky The Brothers Karamazov needs to be a short story.” “Mojo Pin” covers addiction. “Grace” forgiveness and redemption. “Last Goodbye,” “Lilac Wine (a cover),” “So Real,” and “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” about love, missed chances and love lost. The ethereal and maybe one of the best vocal performances ever tracked is Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” And then there is “Corpus Christi Carol.” This, strangely, eventually evolved into my favorite song on the album. I can recall so many late nights or even early mornings listening to this song on repeat when Joe and I were living together at 855 Baronne around 2003-2005. Another cover of an old English ballad. It’s a haunting, ephemeral track expressing the death of a lover. This was metaphorically on the nose for what I was feeling personally at the time. Fittingly, we arrive at the last track, “Dream Brother.” An amazing song about mortality and the afterlife. Barnes would always refer to everyone as, “Brother.” Like Mardi Gras in New Orleans 1999, never stop making sense Barnes. Dream well Brother.
It wouldn’t be fair to compare other vocalists to Buckley, but I have greatly enjoyed the following vocal works: Jimmy Gnecco from the band Ours (several albums), Emmet Tinley from The Prayer Boat (especially the album Polichinelle) and Anthony Hegarty (Anhoni) on Antony and the Johnsons’ I Am a Bird Now.
Favorite Tracks: All
Pressing: Music On Vinyl. MOVLP-007. 2009.