Few artists have touched the hearts of many with only one album as much as Jeff Buckley has done. When he passed away at the tender age of 30 in a drowning accidental, Buckley had only released Grace, a career-defining record that is critically acclaimed as one of the greatest albums of all time. Grace is indeed a magical experience; the album has many facets that penetrate your soul — Buckley’s gifted songwriting, ethereal voice spanning close to three octaves, heart-wrenching emotion and top-notch guitar work. Covering all spectrums of emotion, it sends you into euphoria and tears. The music has enlightened and touched me, and holds a special place in my musical discography.
Grace is surprisingly, at least from what I’ve encountered, quite unheard of even among my more musically inclined peers. Buckley is almost universally known for his cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which is the best track on the album. Actually, I don’t consider it a cover at all —“Hallelujah” is Jeff Buckley’s song. The raw emotion that pervades the recording chills to the bone, and if you don’t get teary eyed listening to it straight through, I would question your humanity. The track is not necessarily indicative of Buckley’s gifted vocal range; Buckley does not over-sing, and he does not need to. Whenever I listen to this track, I swear that Buckley is singing right to me — picture the lowest of the lows in your life, and you will undergo a cathartic experience. When you finish the song, you will realize there is certainly hope in this world, regardless of the trials or annoyances you’re facing.
I am not particularly religious, but if I compared Grace to anything it would be to a spiritual experience. The album and title track are aptly named as such, and there is religious imagery in songs like “Corpis Christi Carol,” “Eternal Life” and, of course, “Hallelujah.” Although Buckley is widely perceived to have been religiously apathetic, there is no doubt that there is something divine about the themes and soundscapes explored in Grace. “Dream Brother” is a captivating foray into psychedelic rock and “So Real” is a haunting slow-burner about a past relationship that evokes a dream-like state. Buckley’s music takes you on a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts and never lets you go. This is exactly what real music must feel and sound like, and I have never experienced this same feeling with any other album.
Similar feelings pervade the rest of the record. Songs like “Last Goodbye” and “Lover You Should’ve Come Over” are also emotional roller coasters that take you on a musical journey into your inner psyche. Listening to Buckley, you cannot help but drift off into the distance and contemplate your life at hand. Buckley himself did not have a particularly easy life — his estranged father Tim died of a drug overdose at age 28. Buckley also struggled as he lived with his single mother in multiple homes in Orange County and dealt with his potential success in a fickle musical world.
Grace was clearly a personal album for Buckley. Themes of loss, regret, and hope are found throughout Grace, and if I had any theory on what Buckley was trying to accomplish with this stellar album, I would say he was coming to terms with his life. Unfortunately, Buckley left us much too soon, but only few could have accomplished as much as he did.
Grace did not introduce me to a whole new genre of music, provide me with the soundtrack of my childhood, an escape from reality, or any other typical criteria for most people’s favorite albums. It is difficult for me to sit and listen to it in its entirety; the album is simply too powerful and emotional for a regular day. It is impossible to resist being brought deep down into Buckley’s often melancholy, yet ultimately relatable life. And that’s why I find grace exquisite and unusual. But I will never forget the first time I was completely drawn into Buckley’s world, and how it slowly became my own. To me, Grace is the pure work of a man simply playing the music from his heart, singing for redemption and praying for his “saving grace.” Of course, this is only my interpretation. Still, which albums these days actually cause you to question what they really mean, but most importantly, to question your own life? This is why Grace is, to me, quite simply one of the greatest albums of all time.