The artist this article is about, had a very famous father. In a previous article, I wrote about him. He was a successful singer-songwriter, who produced many great albums. Sadly he, like his son, died young, far too young. Both father and son, were blessed with wonderful voices, and leave behind some wonderful music. Today I’m going to write about Jeff Buckley, the son of Tim Buckley. Jeff Buckley only ever recorded one studio album, Grace. Released back in 1994, Grace was a stunning debut album. A great future was forecast for Jeff, sadly, tragedy intervened in his life, cutting it short. Music lost a great talent in May 1997, when he so cruelly drowned. In this article, I’ll tell you about Jeff’s career and his stunning album Grace.
Jeff Buckley was born on November 17th 1966, in Anaheim, California. Although the son of Tim Buckley and Mary Guibert, he was brought up as Scotty Moorhead. He was brought up by his mother and stepfather. During his childhood, he was steeped in music. His mother was a classically trained musician, playing cello and piano. Tim Buckley, his father, was a successful singer-songwriter. However, it was his stepfather, Ron Moorhead who introduced Jeff to artists like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppilin, Pink Floyd and Queen. He had started playing guitar aged five, and by thirteen, owned his first electric guitar. During high school, he played music, even playing in the school jazz band.
On graduating from high school, he spent a year at the Musician’s Institute, graduating aged nineteen. This course taught him about music theory and harmonies. After this, he spent six years playing guitar in various bands. Their style of music ranged from rock to reggae, and jazz to heavy metal. To make ends meet, he worked in a hotel during this time. He also worked as a session musician, playing in funk and R&B sessions.
In February 1990, Jeff moved to New York. Once settled in New York, he found it hard to get work as a musician. Whilst there, his musical tastes widened. He became interested in blues musician Robert Johnson’s music, hardcore punk band Bad Brains and Qawwali, a form of Sufi devotional music, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s work in particular. It was whilst in New York that Jeff got his next major break in music. His late father’s manager Herb Cohen, offered to help Jeff record a demo tape. This was called the Babylon Dungeon Sessions. The idea was to attract interest in Buckley as a solo artist.
1991, saw Jeff take part in a tribute show to his father Tim in New York. At that tribute concert, he performed one of his father’s classic songs I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain. His performance at the concert stimulated interest in his career. At last, his music career was going somewhere. For the next couple of years, he played numerous gigs around New York, where he honed his skills as a musician. During his concerts, he would play a wide range of material. In his sets he would play covers of everything from Edith Piaf to The Smiths and Led Zeppelin to Leonard Cohen. After a while, he started attracting interest from major record labels. Eventually, he signed to Columbia Records, signing a three album deal, worth roughly one million dollars in October 1992. In July and August 1993, he headed to the studio, to record his debut EP Live At Sin-e.
Midway through 1993, he began working on his debut album Grace. The sessions were produced by Andy Wallace, who previously, had mixed Nirvana’s Nevermind album. After a few weeks practice, the band headed to Bearsville Studios, in Woodstock, New York. They spend six weeks recording parts of Grace. Overdubbing took place in New York and Manhattan. It was there, that Buckley recorded numerous takes of his vocals, attempting to achieve perfection.
Between finishing the recording and overdubbing sessions for Grace, and its release in August 1994, Buckley headed out on the road to tour his EP, Live At Sin-e. His tour was a huge success, with many well known musicians taking in Buckley’s shows. This would include Chrissie Hynde of The Pretender and U2’s The Edge.
When Grace was released, it was critically acclaimed. Even though sales started slowly, it reached gold status in Australia, France and the US. The great and good of music all queued up to praise the album. Luminaries such as Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and David Bowie all loved the album, and widely praised it. Rolling Stone magazine loved the album, and have included it in their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
After the release of Grace, Buckley spent the next eighteen months touring the album. Wherever he played, he was a sell out. After all the years he’d struggled to make ends meet, Jeff was suddenly a huge star. After the tour ended in 1996, he prepared to write his next album. This was entitled Sketches For My Sweetheart the Drunk. Tom Verlaine ex-member of Television was to produce the album. Several recordings took place, and after a recording session in Manhattan, Buckley was still not happy with the album. To him, the album wasn’t finished yet. He played a few new songs at The Knitting Factory’s tenth anniversary concert. After that, he decided to head to Easley McCain Recording studios in Memphis, to work on his album. He hired a house, and became so attached to it, that he asked the owner’s if he could buy it. Whilst there, he even played a number of concerts at local venues. However, the album wasn’t going well, Buckley wasn’t happy with Verlaine as producer, and contacted Andy Wallace, producer of his first album, Grace. In preparation for the arrival of Wallace, Buckley recorded some demos and sent them to Wallace.
Whilst his band returned to New York, Buckley stayed behind to work on the album. His band arrived back in Memphis on May 29th 1997. They were going to join him in the studio to see some new material he’d been working on. That night, Buckley decided to go swimming in Wolf River Harbor, part of the Mississippi. He entered the river fully clothed. A member of his road crew watched his swim. He’d swam there before. The roadie turned, and moved a guitar and radio out of the reach of the wake of a tug-boat, that was about to pass. When he turned round, Buckley was gone, nowhere to be seen. Tragedy had struck. Sadly, after a long search that night, there was no sign of Buckley. Then on June 4th, two local residents found Jeff Buckley’s body. He was thirty-one years of age.
Since his death, Jeff Buckley’s music is more popular than ever. A number of live albums, greatest hits and Sketches For My Sweetheart the Drunk have been released since his death. His music is still attracting new fans, and his debut album Grace, is widely recognized as an outstanding album, one of the best albums of the 1990s’ I will now tell you just why Grace is such an outstanding album.
Grace opens with Mojo Pin, a song that starts quietly, the sound distant, gradually getting nearer. When it does, Buckley’s vocal emerges, soaring high at first, then dropping almost to a whisper. Behind him the track meanders gently, before opening out, becoming louder and fuller. As this happens, Buckley’s voice veers between high and low. His range is wide, his voice full of character. You get the impression he’s holding himself back, and any minute he could launch into a vocal thats loud and passionate. It happens. He almost screams, but gathers control. The same can’t be said of his band, they really let go and unleash a wall of glorious sound. Mojo Pin is a dichotomy of a track, one minute quiet, gentle, with Buckley sounding thoughtful, the next his voice soars, he nearly screams, joining the band in an almost explosive crescendo. It’s a powerful track, one that demonstrates Buckley’s talent as a vocalist.
The title track Grace is the next track on the album. Straight away, the sound is full, the tempo faster. When Buckley sings his voice is softer, he articulates the lyrics perfectly, bringing out the beauty in the lyrics. It’s one of his best performances on the album. His band play really well, the guitars particularly are a highlight of the track. Later in the track, Buckley harmonizes beautifully. Then later, his voice is much stronger, he really lets go, forces the high notes to emerge. When he does, his band join in, upping the tempo, the sound getting louder, nearly frenetic. Then suddenly, the track ends. You’re left wondering, where did that go, but are left with a wonderful memory.
Last Goodbye begins with a slide guitar playing, as if just warming up. Quickly, things get serious. What follows is a beautiful song. Buckley’s voice is strong and clear. He’s perfectly in control of his voice. Again, he demonstrates that wide vocal range. This allows him to veer from gentle and high and soaring, always in control. On this track, the lyrics are among the best on the album, heartfelt and passionate. Here, everything falls into place, his vocal, the lyrics and his band’s playing among the best on Grace.
The next song on Grace is one that will be familiar to many people. Lilac Wine has been covered by many artists. I’ve heard many of these versions. Some are good, others bad, and some the equivalent of a musical car crash. Jeff’s version is, by far, my favorite version. He poured everything he had into this song. During the song, you’ll experience a wide range of emotions. You’ll feel sad and happy, and experience highs and lows. Here his rendition is heartfelt, passionate and loaded with emotion. He brings the tempo way down low, when he sings his voice is brilliant, perfectly suited for the song. The arrangement is minimalist, just Jeff and his band playing softly behind him. It’s truly a gorgeous version of this song. After you’ve heard this version, anything else is second best.
After such a brilliant song in Lilac Wine, it’s hard to either equal or better his performance on that track. On So Real, he tries, tries very hard. It’s a good attempt. So Real is another of the album’s highlights. His voice is at its best, going between soft and gentle, to high and soaring. When he does this, he’s always in control of his powerful voice. This is something he shared with his father Tim. On this track, the arrangement is much fuller, the band are occasionally, allowed of the leash. Like Buckley, their performance veers between almost understated to full on. Having said that, they never overpower Buckley’s vocal, and compliment him perfectly.
Hallelujah sees Jeff cover another song that has been covered by many people. Written by Leonard Cohen, it’s a beautiful song, with Cohen’s version in many people’s opinion the best. Until now. Jeff sings the song beautifully, the arrangement wonderfully understated. He puts everything he has into the song. His version is one of the most moving versions of this song you’ll ever hear. When he sings the song, there are no frills, just an extremely moving and heartfelt reading of Cohen’s wonderful lyrics. This version is dramatic, when you first hear this track, it takes your breath away. It’s so different from many of the songs on the album. Only one word can describe this performance. Seminal.
Lover You Shouldn’t Have Come is a track that starts slowly, it takes nearly a minute before Buckley sings. When he does, it’s well worth the wait. His performance is brilliant. It’s another great track, one where Buckley writes both the lyrics and music. This song showcases his talents as a songwriter. Quite simply, these are some of the best lyrics on Grace. The vocal is just as good, when he sings, he sings from the heart. You feel he means every word of the lyrics, such is sincerity. Since I first heard Grace, this has long been one of my favorite tracks from the album.
Corpus Christi Carol, is from Benjamin Britton’s, A Boy Is Born. This was a song that Jeff was first introduced to in school. It’s the last of the three cover versions on the album. His version of this song is stunning. When you hear his voice, it has an ethereal quality, he controls his voice really well, resisting the urge to reinterpret the song. Instead he sings the song as it’s meant to be sung. The arrangement is subtle, understated and perfect for this beautiful song.
Eternal Life is the complete opposite to many tracks on Grace. Whereas Lilac Wine, Hallelujah and Corpus Christi Carol are quiet tracks, with a subtlety and understated arrangement, Eternal Life is the complete opposite. Straight away, the sound is loud and unapologetic. It’s right in your face. Truthfully, you worry if your speakers will survive nearly five minutes of this. The guitars are really loud, the drums are pounded, really punished. After the initial shock, when you listen to the track, it grows on you. You begin to enjoy it. Buckley’s vocal is loud, as if he’s battling his band, almost struggling to make himself heard. When eventually the tempo drops, you breath a sigh of relief, draw breath. Mistake. They start straight back up, launching another assault on their instruments. By the end, I’m exhausted, but in all honesty, I really enjoyed the track, as it showed a very different side to Jeff.
Grace ends with Dream Brother, a track that has a hesitant start. When the track starts the arrangement is gentle. A guitar plays quietly, drums play in the distance and Buckley’s vocal is understated. The song meanders along. I’m always waiting for the song to open out, the volume to increase, Buckley and the band to cut loose. After two and a half minutes the sound gets fuller, the band and Buckley still showing restraint. They’re resisting the temptation to end the album with a band. Instead Buckley’s vocal is controlled, very much within himself. His voice is still full of character and feeling when he sings the lyrics. They’re powerful, his rendition of them adding a dramatic impact. Then the song ends, not with a bang, but with a subtle, understated ending. It’s a lovely track to end the album, keeping up the high quality that runs throughout this album.
Grace was the only album released during Jeff Buckley’s short life. It was a brilliant debut album, one of the best you’ll be lucky enough to hear. It was one of the best album of the 1990s’, and is one that has stood the test of time well. Today, it still sounds as good today as the day I first heard it back in 1994. Throughout Grace, you’ll hear some wonderful songs. Three cover versions and seven original songs. The cover versions of Lilac Wine, Hallelujah and Corpus Christi Carol are three wonderful songs, songs that he has covered beautifully. In my opinion, Lilac Wine and Hallelujah are two of the best songs on the album. The remaining seven songs, are also, of the highest standard. My favorites are Last Goodbye and Lover You Shouldn’t Have Come, two great tracks. There is not one bad song on Grace, this is unusual. Usually, there are some mediocre tracks on most albums. Not on this one though. It’s one of these albums that I return to time and time again, and each time, hear something new. Each time subtleties and nuances, reveal themselves.
It’s just a pity that Jeff never made more albums, because he was a hugely talented singer, musician and songwriter. The tragedy is, that his career was so short. However, we should be thankful that he recorded Grace, one of the best album’s you’ll be privileged to hear. Should you never have heard Grace, you really should buy it, and you’ll hear some fantastic music, from a fantastic singer. Standout Tracks: Last Goodbye, Lilac Wine, Hallelujah and Lover You Shouldn’t Have Come.