woensdag 27 augustus 2014

Grace at 20. Jeff Buckley

"It was twenty years ago today". No, just over 20 years ago in fact, 4 days to be exact, that the best record of the past decades was released. A record that had a huge impact on me, a record that I still can not listen to without feeling a sense of loss, of unfulfilled promise, of a relationship that ended far too early.

Jeff Buckley would have turned 48 this year, but never made it past 30 and some. There was this very small item in my newspaper late May 1997. "Singer missing", it said and reading on the few lines it turned out to be Jeff Buckley. Knowing that people seldom return from gone missing in large rivers, I felt a sense of deep loss and grief. As if I'd heard that someone very dear to me had just died. Why? It must be the impact of his music that spoke to my soul and being. 'Grace' in the years since buying the album, had become a part of me. Like most favourite albums and songs tend to do. The show I attended in Nighttown in February 1995 was close to magic. As if an angel had descended from heaven to sing for us. Unfortunately that angel was claimed back before finalising his second album. There's a host of released records since that day, but nothing that Jeff Buckley had planned on releasing before his 'Anthology box' in 2020 or something.

Where does Grace stand in 2014? Still at this lonely top. Jeff's version of 'Hallelujah' has become a major hit since and is the staple version outshining all others. Played at weddings, I know from experience. The music of Jeff Buckley is about two things: the inventive, intricate arrangements and his voice. The magic of his singing that made such a deep impression on me. I couldn't believe that he would reproduce what was on record. In the first song in Nighttown it appeared that he couldn't. In the second song that was all forgotten. Everything and more was on display. Deep emotions, the highest notes and this depth behind his singing. As if he was hanging on to the ledge for dear life itself. Where the two come together, is where the magic of Jeff Buckley's music starts. Not ends.

The first two songs are adorned with the magic playing of Gary Lucas who gets the credits due, but was bitterly disappointed that he was not in Buckley's band. His playing is totally off the map and gives 'Mojo pin' and 'Grace' their mysteriousness and magic. The two songs had won me over instantly. 'Mojo pin' with its darkness and harshness, 'Grace' in its lightness and longing. It is however the eastern influenced 'Last goodbye' that is the first absolute highlight of Grace. The rhythm of the guitar over which the violins do their eastern thing. Led Zeppelin you say? O, yes, 'Kashmir' certainly comes to mind, but Led Zeppelin would have wished that they were this good. Robert Plant that he could sing this good. It is no match, no matter how good I think Led Zeppelin is. The band found it's match. Led Zeppelin is one of the obvious influences of Jeff Buckley, but so are jazzy crooners, modern classics and singer-songwriters of all sorts, starting with Leonard Cohen. All that playing for a dozen odd years went into Grace and came up as 100% Jeff Buckley.

A singer-songwriter who did not write easily. Let's face it. A few self-penned songs and co-written songs in 26 years fit to fill an album is not a lot. If we look at the quality of those songs then it's clear that they are among the best songs of the past 35 years. To fill the album there are three covers as well. The beautiful 'Lilac wine', the already mentioned 'Hallelujah' and 'Corpus Christi carol (for Roy)', the song I used to skip and now being older think so extremely beautiful. Together 10 songs make up the original version of Grace. The songbook of Jeff Buckley.

For the larger audience 'Hallelujah' is the song that is best known. Yes, I've always liked this version a lot. Leonard Cohen's love song about looking back on falling in love, making love at the top of and the down-wards spiral of this relation has been given what looks like its final version. The guitar playing isn't so much virtuous, but it is all that the song takes. The intricate fingerpicking is plain beautiful, the singing outrageously fantastic. There's so much feeling going into this performance. To think, the song starts with a startled sounding intake of breath. Only after recuperating Jeff starts to play his guitar. One of the first lines of the song are also a statement: "You don't really care for music, do you?" There's no chance for us without this love. And then the next song, the seventh is still to come.

The one song sticking out over all others is 'Lover, you should have come over'. From the muddled organ intro, this beautiful song grows, blooms, flowers and ends. All in about seven minutes. With it's chord progression reaching for the sky and the total outing on voice. 'Lover, you should have come over' is beauty incarnated into song. The organs and backing vocals that add a ton load to this song. The lead guitar notes of the ascending chord progression. And Jeff, standing tall, calling out, reaching out, shouting out. Although I know so many songs by now, which makes it very to hard to define what I think is really the best song I know, I know this: 'Lover, you should have come over' is one of the best. One to play at my funeral. Together with 'Hallelujah' and 'Corpus Christi carol'. No need for much else. O.k., 'Last goodbye' as that is most appropriate, isn't it?

'Eternal life' after 'Corpus Christi carol' always comes as a bit as a shock. Again a highlight on this album filled with them. The song does not fit Jeff Buckley's voice completely. He has to force himself on the one end and go to deep on the other end. Still it makes a giant impression. Again all the right chord changes were found and some intricate arrangements written, which can mostly be credited to Karl Bergen.

In 'Dream brother' it all ends. Again this mix of a ballad, Led Zeppelin and all that defines Jeff Buckley. Sweetness combined with a tough edge, holding back and full release. 'Dream brother', the song that pointed to a future that never came.

Jeff Buckley perhaps would never have lived up to Grace. Probably it would have been too much to ask for. We will never know. What I do know is that with Grace he left behind a monument that will last forever. An album so good, that there isn't one that has surpassed it since. An album by a singer who left us behind, orphaned, but with everything to live for. A singer who can bring me to tears at the most unsuspecting moments. With an album that if you haven't bought it yet, ought to be on the top of your to do list.

Wo.

You can listen to 'Grace' here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3adFWKE9JE

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