Volume 94, Issue 51
Wednesday, November 29, 2000
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
It's become something of a regular occurrence within the rock world that a bright star with seemingly endless potential is lost before their time. One example of this unfortunate trend is the death of Jeff Buckley in 1997.
Thirty-years-old at the time, Buckley had issued only a single album before drowning in Memphis. Apart from the tragedy of his death, it is a great shame the world will not be receiving any more music from him, for that one album, 1994's Grace, is a masterpiece in the strongest sense of the word.
The album begins with "Mojo Pin," a seductive ballad about heroin addiction that introduces the listener to Buckley's greatest asset his voice. Wordless intoning in a delicate falsetto, he displays, in the first 30 seconds, the trait that set him apart from the rest of the field.
Although it closely resembled the singing voice of his father, folk artist Tim Buckley (who died when the junior Buckley was eight), it was nevertheless a distinct force. He was able to use his voice in unique ways; the beauty of his vocals alone are enough to qualify the album as a classic.
Yet it's not just Buckley's singing that made his music so captivating. With this album, he established himself as perhaps the greatest songwriter of his generation. Songs like "So Real," "Dream Brother" and the title track, are all remarkably commanding pieces, impressive both for the obvious emotional candour of their lyrics and the unorthodox nature of their arrangements. Buckley was not one for subtlety and the material on Grace is some of the most dramatic and powerful ever recorded.
In particular, "Last Goodbye" stands out from the rest of the tracks on the album. An melancholy mid-tempo number with extraordinarily sensitive lyrics, it is surely the greatest breakup song of all time. Equally good is "Lover, You Should've Come Over." Opening with the sounds of a church organ before wonderful acoustic guitar kicks in, it's another astonishingly affecting song, this time dealing with a man unsure of what his next move in a romantic relationship should be. One's inability to listen to these songs without being physically moved is a testament to Buckley's brilliance.
The album is accented by a trio of selections which Buckley did not write. These covers allow him to exhibit another side of his gift; each is a masterful interpretation that transforms the source material. Best of these is his rendition of Leonard Cohen's classic, "Hallelujah." Buckley performs the song as an achingly spare piece, with only his gentle guitar playing for accompaniment. The way his voice wraps itself around Cohen's words is especially lovely and presents compelling evidence of the lost genius that was Jeff Buckley.
Aaron St. John
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