When I started amping up my vinyl collection I had to make a sort of promise in an effort to not let it get out of hand: not buying an album I already owned just to have it on vinyl too.
Of course there are some exceptions to this if you look at my fledgling collection but none of these are of the type that cost more than a few pounds.
That being said….
There is one new addition which I have on CD. Twice, in fact, if you count the expanded legacy addition.
But this is Jeff Buckley’s Grace. And we’re talking about a limited (to 2000), lilac swirl vinyl here. The album is a work of art. Had my Essential Albums list made it to the Top 5 it would most difinately have featured. There’s so much to love on that album including but not limited to:
1) Mojo Pin
I’m not going to say every track is a reason to love this album. Though that could easily happen.
Mojo Pin is the best kind of opener. An absolute belter of a song that manages to contain every element you’ll find on the album itself: psychedlic leanings giving way to Zeplin-esque blues and hard rock propelled by a surging guitar; lyrics that hint at the spiritual, a love lost; rising and crashing melody and, of course – that voice.
2) The Sound
If you have The Legacy Edition of this album you’ll have seen the Making Of.. DVD that comes with it.
You’ll know that Jeff was hard to reign down musically and compulsive, over-flowing with ideas as he was. When making Grace they had to have three different band set-ups available at any time in order to accomadate his ideas.
By all accounts it wasn’t the smoothest of productions and yet the final sound is amazing.
I don’t know enough to say it’s down to the recording equipment, the sound engineer or the production – all I know is that the richness of sound is beautiful and is probably down to Andy Wallace who produced, engineered and mixed the album (adding to a CV that included mixing duty for Sonic Youth’s Dirty, Nirvana’s Nivermind, Rage Against the Machine, L7…).You can hear every element, perfectly balanced. The plectrum on the strings, the slip of a hand on a neck, you get the sound of real music being played – nothing artificial about it. A warm, enveloping sound.
3) Track 6, 02:18- 03:08
These points are all interlinked it seems for the element that adds to the richness of that sound is the band that Jeff built around himself.
Signed as a solo artist – if you listen to the Live At Sin-e album you’ll learn several points that inform Grace.
Firstly – Jeff didn’t always manage to reign it all in to a concise, well-formed song. Early versions of tracks that would make Grace meander more and he plays with his voice a little too much.
It’s also clear that Jeff needed a full band to truly capture and develop his ideas. One of those musicians bought in, toward the end, was guitarist Michael Tighe. Tighe bought something else to the mix – the song So Real. Buckley would add a chorus and a few lyrical changes and the song was so strong it pushed off Buckley’s own Forget Her from the final album. From that, between 02:18 and 03:08 is pure chainsaw-guitar magic wrapped up with a near-whispered “I love you, but I’m afraid to love you.”
Not the head shot that graced the cover, but the choice of covers here – that Buckley felt sufficiently strong about to include over his own originals.
The now-famous/infamous take on Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah is easily the definitve version of a much-covered song. A perfect tune to showcase Buckley’s vocal prowess, it’s flawless. Enough has been written about it that I can’t / shouldn’t go into it too much here – but I will say that just when I think I’m bored of it, I’ll here it again and hear something new in his reading of it and suddenly it’s perfect again.
Lilac Wine is transformed from a cocktail-lounge song into a near mystical experience that just-about manages to keep a lid on Jeff’s voice.
Then there’s a take on Britten’s hymn Corpus Christi Carol, which, in Buckley’s hands, is more of a lullaby.
Jeff’s takes on each of these songs does what any good cover should – transform it into something new.
That’s not what I love about them though – what gets me is the choice of these songs. This was 1994. The post-Nevermind alternative music scene still on the rise and yet here are tunes plucked from Nina Simone’s repetoire and a hymn first heard in 1504.
Of course, the over, more practical reason for the inclusion of three covers is that Buckley didn’t yet have enough material of his own that was up to inclusion. Though his song writing was moving forward (those tunes written by Buckley alone include Last Goodbye) it wasn’t there yet and, sadly, we’d never get the chance to discover why because….
5) A One-Off
One of those elements that makes Grace so special is frustrating and tragic in equal measure; it’s all we really have of this talent.
On the evening of May 29th, 1997, Jeff Buckley went for a swim in the Mississippi. Fully clothed, wearing his boots and singing the chorus to Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love. He’d been swimming in the channel before. The roadie who was with had stayed on shore, moved a guitar out of the way from a passing tugboat’s wake, looked back out to the water to find Buckley had vanished. It would be five days before his body was found.
Jeff Buckley’s death at the age of 30 was ruled as an accidental drowning.
The album he was working on at the time would never reach fruition. A compilation of those songs he was working on for it would be released a few days shy of a year after his death. Critically well-recieved, Sketches for My Sweetheart the drunk showcased a new leaning for Jeff, tighter, harder and at times darker, the songs gathered across the two discs showed a marked evolution in his song writing. It’s a tantalising glimpse, a painful “what if?” that no amount of reissues or vault-digging can ever answer.
As such Grace remains the only final, definitive recording by Jeff Buckley. A true one-off.