September 30, 2004

Test Spin: Jeff Buckley

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Throughout time there have been more than a handful of musicians who produced one or two incredible records only to die tragically premature death. Having just a small sample of the musicians’ potential to create is agonizing to any dedicated listener. Fans are left aching for more, wanting one last taste of what the unfortunate artists could have created. Jeff Buckley has left me and many people in such a state of longing for more.

Of Buckley’s two recorded albums, Grace was by far the most famous. Originally released in 1994, Grace is an undeniably unique album recorded by one of the most distinctive artists of the last twenty years. Its multilayered tones evoke simultaneous feelings of despair and ecstasy. Its sullen minor chords and achingly high notes are so pitifully beautiful that you cannot help but experience something in between smiling and crying while listening. Ten years after its original release, Columbia Records has re-released a Legacy Edition of Grace. For all of those Buckley fans who wish he could have produced one more album, this may be the closest you will get to satisfying that unsatiated thirst. The newly released Legacy Edition includes a remastered version of Grace as well as a second CD that includes many previously unreleased tracks. It also includes a DVD documentary of the making of the original album.

Minus the scratches and scuffs on my original Grace CD, the remastered version is not noticeably different than the original. However, the second CD contains many tracks that demonstrate Buckley’s interest in exploring other genres. Many of the songs have a bluesy and folkish sound that is much more pronounced than in any of the songs on Grace. Even though the tracks on Grace are all very different in themselves, there is definitely a cohesive unity throughout the album. This is not to say that every song is the same. The confluence of each individual song results in a thematically consistent whole. The unreleased songs defy this standard Buckley sound, showing that he did in fact have the ability to go beyond what was given to us in his first album.

The DVD includes a few music videos along with a short documentary on the making of the original album. Intimate footage and exclusive interviews with Buckley, as well as other band members and recording technicians, give face to the mysterious and almost mythical album. Although the footage was insightful in that it enabled me to actually see Buckley as a person rather than just a phantom artist, I really felt that seeing the DVD made the album itself less exciting. Observing the created product without knowing how it was developed gives you something to dream about. It allows you to imagine the inspiration and motivation, enabling you to have your own mental image, making the album uniquely yours. But seeing the documentary left me with a sort of blah feeling regarding Buckley. His air was verging on conceit — he seemed to fill the typical musician stereotype of being totally detached from the real world. Of course he was a musical genius, so such characteristics are almost expected. Regardless of his personality, Buckley’s music is still remarkable.

There is something about an artist’s tragic death that elevates their single record to an even higher level than what it would have been initially. The one or two albums produced by such unfortunate musicians reaches a mythic status. In the case of Grace, the album was incredible to being with, but this does not mean Buckley’s death has not had an effect on how we perceive it.

Archived article by Lauren Beene
Red Letter Daze Contributor