Jeff Buckley was a musician who wanted an organic performance and each time he stepped onstage he gave over his soul. Even though he wasn’t close with his folk-legend father Tim Buckley, Jeff admired his wild and unpredictable musicianship and wanted to craft a similar methodology but inspired by his own, more contemporary musical influences. The result didn’t compare to other popular music of the early nineties and even to this day, his epic debut Grace is still inimitable with anethereal performance that still breathes with life. You feel the power behind his vocals especially on ORG’s 2014 vinyl release (as a double album pressed at 45 RPM), and we’re thrilled to include it in our Rocky Mountain Audio Fest CAS album line-up.
Buckley’s learnt songwriting from storytellers who didn’t depend on a song’s instrumentation to communicate a strong message. Édith Piaf easily commands attention with her percussive and long-winded singing. Piaf sounds limitless and free on “Hymne à L’amour” as she gives tribute to her then-lover, boxer Marcel Cerdan. The French icon sings with passion and panic as she contemplates how in love she is with Cerdan as she looks ahead to the day she will lose him forever. That blend of joy and sorrow is something Piaf could only do herself, and Jeff Buckley borrowed from this sentiment within his own style.
When crafting his unique direction, Buckley also observed Robert Plant. On Led Zeppelin III’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, Plant never repeats a vocal pattern and fully explores his low and high registers to express conflicted feelings behind his turbulent relationship. His painful screams and crying consume the chorus of the track, which wields more power than any of the amplified instruments in the mix. Jimmy Page matches it perfectly with an improvised guitar solo that expresses similar turmoil. Buckley would take in their far-ranging dynamic to give Grace its balance between intimate performance and rock-out moments.
Grace features a few covers that are beautifully reinvented, thanks to Buckley’s boundless imagination. The crooner’s cover of the English hymn “Corpus Christi Carol” replaces the piano on the original composition with finger-picked guitar and vocally it’s one of the best moments of his beautiful falsetto. His voice sounds peaceful and calm, as if the performance is a form of meditation for Buckley. Its conclusion tests his range the most and, when played over a hi-fi, feels transcendent almost as if its sung by an angel. It fits perfectly, considering its lyrical references to the death of Jesus.
While Radiohead was recording their sophomore effort, The Bends, they attended a Jeff Buckley concert in hopes to break some writer’s block. Luckily for them, it worked— Thom Yorke applied Buckley’s unconventional tenor to build “Fake Plastic Trees”. It starts minimally, like Buckley’s “Corpus Christi Carol”, and gradually intensifies as string arrangements and other Radiohead members are added to the mix. Yorke claims he truly discovered his voice after recording the track and Buckley gave him the confidence to use his falsetto, ultimately cementing his legacy in alternative rock outside of his legendary debut.
Grace lives on today because no other musician in 1994 understood what Jeff Buckley was doing— he was an anomaly at the time. He wanted his vocal chords to transcend language, genre, gender, and race in order to make an impact any audience. His interest in avant-garde music and inspiration from his favorite artists pushed him to avoid popular music trends and create a new musical identity. Even though he was only able to do so with one album, his emotive nature lives on and continues to inspire musicians to create art that stays true to their own individuality.