Record Of The Week #2 - "Grace" by Jeff Buckley
For the first of this weeks records I've chosen an album so good I even own it on minidisc (remember those!).
When I first heard "Grace" I was heavily into the grunge scene at the time. My world either revolved around flash guitarists like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani or alternative bands such as Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. It was while reading an interview by Chris Cornell, Soundgarden's lead singer, that I first came across the name Jeff Buckley and as an avid devourer of music I set about finding out who this person was. His name was cropping up all over the place, in magazines, being name checked by a wide variety of artists and all over the early internet music pages (yes I really am old enough to recall the awful dial up tone when trying to connect to the internet).
So off I trotted to my local HMV to buy a copy and as I listened to it on the bus as I travelled home it totally blew my mind, so much so I remember missing my stop I was so engrossed.
From the opening bars of "Mojo Pin" with its lush reverb, guitar harmonics and Buckley's amazing voice to the beautiful closer "Dream Brother", this album showed me more than any other that was a world outside my guitar centric bubble full of songwriting, masterful lyrics and subtlety unlike anything else being released at the time.
You can tell through listening to the album that Jeff was a disciple of the past, bringing lost melodic writing skills and adding jazz and folk influences kicking and screaming into the angst ridden 90's but with a heartfelt honesty that can only be genuine. Having had to live with the legacy of his estranged father, singer/songwriter Tim Buckley, always seemed like burden to Jeff, having read their joint biography "Dream Brother" which I also recommend and you can tell he's poured those feelings into this album.
One thing that often gets overlooked is the other musicians and influences on the album. I absolutely love Mick Grondahl's bass playing, especially on the track "Eternal Life" (listen to that gnarly bass tone!) and Matt Johnson's drumming is just sublime throughout. A special mention also goes to Gary Lucas, who co-wrote the first 2 tracks and added "magical guitarness" according to the liner notes.
It was the co-written Buckley/Lucas title track, "Grace", that is the real stand out for me. Hated by recent GCSE music students as being one of the exam questions for a couple of years, it perfectly surmises his use of clever arrangements (check out the way the string lines emphasise the vocal line in the second version), emotional lyrics and clever guitar parts such as Lucas's arpeggiated intro riff.
From a guitar tone point of view its simple yet otherworldly, using just a telecaster, a clean amp and clever use of reverb. Listening to the emptiness in "Hallelujah" or the 12 string slide guitar at the start of "Last Goodbye" as an example. Also its worth checking out this Guitar Player article that dissects the guitar playing on the album:
Jeff sadly died before releasing another full studio album and while other live and demo releases are out there I always wonder what his next release would've been like. I believe he would've gone on to be a timeless musical icon that is so rare in modern times but one thing I am happy for is that we will always have "Grace".