Author: Bruce Jenkins  Date Posted:16 February 2024 


With the smouldering looks and wistful other-worldliness of his father, Jeff Buckley was always going to attract comparisons with Tim. In mid-1994, on the eve of the release of Grace, his debut album, Jeff Buckley was interviewed for MOJO magazine. The second question was, "Has the subject of your father become a thorn in your side?"

His relationship with his male progenitor was so fleeting—a few short days when Jeff was eight years old—that the young man was unfazed. "I guess," he said,"My dad and I were born with the same parts, like some people have the same bone structure, but when I sing, it’s me. Our expression is not the same."

He went on. "I’m just going to make the most intense, heartfelt statement I can."

Of course, that is pretty much what Tim sought to do as well, though it was clear that Jeff did not aspire to the dubious label "tragic cult artist" inevitably pinned to his father. Listening to Grace, the powerful, melodramatic 1994 debut, people wondered. Would the son prove as restless and experimental as his genetic heritage might predict?

We will never know. In a breathtaking slice of cosmic irony Jeff drowned in the Mississippi River on the evening of May 20 1997. He was in Memphis to record new material and decided to swim, fully clothed in the deep dark waters. His body was discovered five days later; accidental drowning ruled the cause of death. Jeff Buckley was 30 years old, just two years older than the age at which his father died.

So what is the primary legacy of this dramatic, passionate singer?

Just the one complete album, Grace.

The album opens gently, seductively, like a creeping tide. "Mojo Pin" has haunting, keening electric guitar notes and wisps of wordless vocals. The lyrics arrive, as does the rhythm section, in a series of ebb and flow, rolling and surging passages building like the ocean. Crosscurrents of triple time and rips of hard rocking passion. It’s quite an opening.

The title track is next, the second co-write with guitarist Gary Lucas with whom Buckley had a band—Gods and Monsters—in early 90s New York. Lucas’ swirling experimental guitar really stands out in the second half of this massive song. After the captivating histrionics of those opening numbers, "Last Goodbye" is easy to overlook. Yet its simple strummed rhythms and straightforward singer-songwriter delivery make it easy to marvel at that amazing voice. What a range, what control. The string arrangement is fabulous too, having sly little psychedelic hints that somehow evoke Revolver.

Side one finishes with the sublime "So Real", co-written with guitarist Michael Tighe and building with an insistent grandeur that evokes the Led Zeppelin Buckley loved as a young teen.

Opening side two we have the famous cover of Leonard Cohen’s "Hallelujah", beginning breathily and soaring to the heartbroken heavens. "Corpus Christi Carol" (Britten) is a slightly out-of-place choirboy showcase, while "Eternal Life" riffs titanically as it ponders mortality. Eternal life is on my trail / Got my red gleaming coffin / Just need one more nail.

Most reviews of Grace were immensely positive, despite some observing that Buckley was still exploring; finding his feet as both writer and recording artist. There is a tendency to use dynamite when a firework may have sufficed, waves of drama that sometimes lean towards opera, ambition not fully realised. Yet the deep dark depth of feeling, a freaky facility with structure and that voice are the recurring themes, and these are the aspects leaping out of the grooves to this day. This is not background music. This is not an artist who shrinks from power. This is the real deal. Lover, you should come over.



David Browne (2001) Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim Buckley. Harper Collins, NY, USA.

Mark Aston: "In at the deep end", in MOJO: The Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine, #9, August 1994

Mick Houghton: "Rarely has a torrid soul been so appealing", in MOJO: The Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine, #10, September 1994

David Peschek, David Browne, Ben Edmonds: "The man that got away", in MOJO: The Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine, #79, June 2000


© Bruce Jenkins—February 2024

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