Grace around the World
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2009, Volume 16, #7
Written by John Metzger
Tue July 28, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
There is no doubt that, in the early 1990s, Jeff Buckley was an artist with a long, lucrative career ahead of him. Yet, he also knew that, whether he liked it or not, he had to play the game in order to get his music heard. This much is clear from the two-DVD, one-CD collection Grace around the World. For the record, Buckley never compromised his artistic outlook or his integrity, but he did make all of the concessions necessary for building a substantial audience.
By raiding the archives of Buckley’s promotional appearances in support of his full-length debut Grace, this new, beautifully assembled package fuses the assorted bits and pieces together to create a rough approximation of the original album’s track listing, while adding a few alternate versions for good measure. With this in mind, it likely wasn’t easy to try to bring a sense of cohesiveness to Grace around the World. After all, its contents were plucked from eight different performances that spanned an eight-month time frame during which Buckley was squarely in the midst of establishing his identity. To ease the transition between tracks, an assortment of interview snippets was tucked into the framework of the endeavor. Buckley doesn’t appear to be entirely comfortable with the routine. For the most part, however, the gambit works remarkably well, as he philosophizes about the music industry, his songs, and his performance style.
On occasion, though, a question is posed to Buckley that raises his ire. The calm, cool demeanor with which he responds hardly masks the lack of patience he has for his host’s superficiality. Like most artists, Buckley had a side of his personality that was obnoxious and pretentious. Minor annoyances caused his frustration to burst to the surface, and at the drop of a hat, he could turn a casual conversation into a dismissive putdown. Fortunately, these uncomfortable moments are kept to a minimum. Nevertheless, their presence highlights the honesty with which Grace around the World was assembled. It also mitigates some of the publicity-minded constructs of the hour-long documentary (Amazing Grace: Jeff Buckley) that also is included with the collection.
Musically speaking, Grace around the World offers an intriguing overview of Buckley’s work, even if it is incomplete and less essential than most of his endeavors. For example, there are other concert outings in his canon that present a more seamless, alternative perspective to the magnificent solo acoustic refrains of Live at Siné. At the same time, however, Grace around the World also bathes Buckley’s career in a unique light. Because it captures his performances amidst a period of artistic and commercial growth, it illuminates the way he managed to frame his material for mass acceptance without losing sight of what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it.
It’s obvious that Buckley was intent on taking aim at the grunge scene as he angled to win converts from both Pearl Jam’s and Nirvana’s camps. Tunes like Last Goodbye and What Will You Say, the latter song appears in place of Corpus Christi Carol, cut straight to the heart of what rock’s biggest stars at the time were producing. Arguably, however, Buckley’s music ultimately was more dynamic and far-reaching. By feeding squirming coils of electric guitar through the muscular impulsiveness of So Real, he and his band sculpted an air of dangerous sensuality — the kind that Radiohead later co-opted as its own. Elsewhere, Mojo Pin chased the blues around the globe to form a meditative opera, while Lover, You Should Have Come Over was performed like an old, R&B classic that had been dipped in Zeppelin-esque grandiosity. Naturally, Buckley’s solo electric delivery of Hallelujah was equally majestic; the mournfulness in his voice was dissipated by his guitar accompaniment, which seemed to float on the wings of angels.
In the end, Grace around the World likely was meant to bolster Jeff Buckley’s legacy by celebrating his life. Yet, it also can’t help but to stand as a sad reminder of the potential that was lost when he accidentally drowned 12 years ago. The recordings he left behind have been astoundingly good; those he never had time to create almost certainly would have been monumental. ½
Of Further Interest...
Grace around the World is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2009 The Music Box