Tuesday, June 22, 2010

album of the day: Grace

Now Jeff Buckley, he's not allowed in the house.

Son of mercurial singer-songwriter Tim Buckley, who died in 1975 of a heroin overdose, Jeff Buckley died in mysterious circumstances in 1997, having completed and released only one album.

This doesn't seem like a debut album. It seems like the third album - the one after the critical and sales hit of the first album, and the critical failure and commercial success of the second, once the weariness of touring, the cynicism of the music biz, and the relentless demands of fans and the press have twisted your soul.

It took guts and a tremendous ego to pull this off. And I think he did it.

Likely the best-known track from the album is Buckley's cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." It's a great song that's been done a dozen different ways, but I don't think anyone plays it like this. Buckley's is a self-conscious tour de force, a military exercise off the coast, just on the legit side of international borders. By which I mean it's a provocation, and one I think Buckley ultimately would have had the firepower to live up to.

The reason I think so is songs like "So Real" and "Grace," which are the kind of well-appointed numbers that back up Buckley's degree of aggression. His guitar work is free, inquisitive, alert, if imprecise at times - reaching and stretching, nubile and coy. His voice is an outrage. He's his father's and Robert Plant's lovechild, I swear it - at turns angelic, boyish, crying, raging, raving, plaintive, and - this is the kicker - disaffected. Dude could emote.

The production of the whole album just screams "1994!" at the top of its lungs - every bit of the sound field is jam packed with sound, for one thing. That contributes still further to the feeling of this being an outright challenge to the music world. It's as lush as you'd ever want an album to be, and the setting only increases the impression that you're hearing the music of an angel - a very fallen, very put-upon, disconcertingly sexy angel.

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