There’s The Moon Asking Me To Stay. Reasons to love Grace

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.

BxgfZZyCcAEt7WBBut 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.”

4) Covers

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.

The black mares in free gallop

Twisted crowd barriers. Lads lugging makeshift stretchers across a pitch strewn with the injured and bewildered. The dead lined up in rows on the turf. Twisted minutes. Twisted metal. Twisted news reports. Everything twisted.

Fan has been described as a must-read for anyone that started watching football after Hillsborough. I’ve not watched football before or after. It’s not my cup of coffee. Good literature, though, is. And Fan most definitely is good literature.

Bxy6VQRCAAAU296With some books of late I’ve felt that some holes in my knowledge have hampered my full understanding and enjoyment of a book. Most particularly this is down to certain Russian novels and my knowing barely anything of that country’s revolution. With Fan, this is not the case. While I have only the vaguest of idea who Brian Clough was, Danny Rhodes writes with such informed and heart-felt passion that I understood. The same is true for football fandom. It’s something that I’ve never grasped, a spell I’ve never been under. Yet Fan expresses the love felt for the game by its protagonist – John Finch – and so many with a clarity and firmness of belief anyone with a passion for something would understand and get on board with.

I knew little of Hillsborough before reading Fan, only what was occasionally mentioned in the news since. Danny Rhodes was there. He writes of it with an alarming clarity, bringing the horror into full focus as is his right.  John Finch was there. He never really left. To say it screwed him up would be an understatement.

Finch cannot move forward. He’s moved away but he can’t move forward. He’s moved from Grantham and its bleak oppression to the South where he finds himself equally oppressed – by the pressures of his relationship and the pressure of the past, reaching forward and pulling him under. Unable to operate in any gear other than neutral for the fear of his terror – the black mares – pulverising him. He’s gotten to the point of no return, clearly suffering PTSD, his job is now on the line and his relationship is crumbling around him.

When word reaches him that one of those friends with him at Hillsborough has “gone and done himself”, Finch realises the only way he can break free, prevent the same fate befalling himself and move forward is to go back. Back to Grantham, back to his old stomping ground, his old circle of friends and search for the closure denied to him those years ago.

Jumping between 2004 and the past, Rhodes deals masterfully with the portrayal of a man hunting for closure, wanting to do the right thing but left helpless and weak by his demons. It’s both immediate and raw and told with an increasing sense of urgency underwritten by the unnerving sensation that we’re dealing with a whole lot of fact in this fiction.

Tackling the effects of trauma, social injustice, the pain and cost of change – both personal and sociological, and, of course, the devotion of football fans, Fan works well both taken at face value and when looking at the subtext.

While football is at the heart of the story, Fan is about more, much more than the game. The subjects tackled will resonate with a much wider audience than any one team’s fans.  Danny Rhodes has delivered a compelling read, full of brilliant narrative and insights.

A big thanks, again, to Arcadia Books for sending me this book.