The old saying “the light that burns twice a bright burns half as long” is an adage that could apply to the life of Jeff Buckley. Son for the famous folk singer Tim Buckley, Jeff only met his father for a short time before he committed suicide in 1975. Like his father Jeff would share many traits. They both were among the best vocalists of their generations and both died way too young.
Jeff was constantly under the pressure to live up to the standards of his father. In many ways we exceeded his father. An early live performance of his father’s song ‘Once I Was’ was so impressive that it sparked a small bidding war among major record labels. The winner, Columbia issued a similar performance on Buckley’s first album the EP ‘Live at Sin-E’. It was a rare that a first recording by an artist on a major label would be a live one, but Buckley had that kind of voice.
Jeff’s voice was an extraordinary one that prompted unusual circumstances. Blessed with a five-octave range he could effortlessly move from soft crooning to soaring falsetto. The only a hand full of artists with that ability existed and one of them was in Minneapolis. No such vocalist existed in rock since Jeff’s father Tim.
A three piece band led by Buckley went to the studio to record their Jeff Buckley’s first and only full length recording Grace. The album was produced by Andy Wallace, fresh from projects with Run DMC and Nirvana. In many ways Jeff Buckley’s sound contained elements of Led Zeppelin and Van Morrison. His overall inspiration was retrospective one as seen (or heard) in his choice of cover songs including ‘Hallelujah’ (Leonard Cohen), ‘Lilac Wine’ (Jim Shelton) and a few others.
The songs written by Buckley were equally fascinating with ‘Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” with its delicate guitar and organ overtones being one of my personal favorites. The album’s high quality production and songwriting only highlight Buckley’s amazing voice. The entire feel of the recording has a sad undertone, heightened by the event of Buckley’s drowning death in 1995. The song ‘Dream Brother’ even alludes prophetically to death with the lyric “Asleep I the sand”.
The album was a refreshing break from the post grunge man rock and rap that was dominating the charts. While Grace was never a big chart buster, ‘Last Goodbye’ got plenty of airplay and video rotation. The album’s influence (and chart performance) would grow slowly over time. Artists ranging from Radiohead to Coldplay all sight Grace to be one of the albums that influenced them. Grace was a resounding critical favorite and is often hailed as the best album of the ‘90s. An unfinished posthumous release Sketches For: My Sweetheart the Drunk was released in 1997. It hinted to another potentially stellar album in the making.
Old adages aside, it’s sad that one of the decade’s best new flames was extinguished before it could evolve. The timeless sounding Grace contains all the elements of a masterpiece. One needs only to listen to Jeff Buckley’s voice to hear why.