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The impact of Jeff Buckley’s Grace and why it matters, 25 years on

Jeff Buckley | still from video

Confession time: I never actually listened to Jeff Buckley during his lifetime.

In my younger and more narrow-minded years, I had somewhat rigid ideas of what music was supposed to be — “rock” sounded like this, men sang like this — and those parameters unfortunately did not include intricate, atmospheric guitar arrangements and a guy at a microphone delivering a breathtaking, acrobatic falsetto. Some punk rock sorts whose approval my high school self desperately craved dismissed Buckley as “whiny” and that sealed the deal. I didn’t bother with Grace, and I didn’t think about Buckley all that much, even when a few of my classmates were heartbroken to hear of his passing towards the end of my senior year.

Flash forward to the summer of 2000, and an empty day that my friend Josh and I spent driving aimlessly around the Philadelphia suburbs. He had a raucous, cathartic guitar jam exploding out of his car speakers, with that very distinctive, trembling voice at the forefront.

“What is this?” I asked.

“It’s Jeff Buckley,” Josh replied as “Eternal Life” played. “The new live album, Mystery White Boy.”

“I didn’t know Jeff Buckley was this much of a rocker.”

“Jeff Buckley was a lot of things.”

That succinct, extremely apt phrase sent me down a never-too-late rabbit hole of Buckley’s work — the sweaty and scintillating Live in Chicago DVD, the emotional and sensual Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk, all the way back to his masterpiece Grace — and after taking it all in, and then putting it on repeat, I realized that those seven words from my friend couldn’t have better captured his identity as an artist.

Jeff Buckley did not believe in boundaries or binaries. Through his work, he challenged conventional ideas of genre and of gender, of sound and vision, of the album as an artistic artifact versus a commercial product. He wrote singles that were beautifully poppy, yet incredibly complex; he growled and spat as much as he sang like an angel; he explored intensely personal themes in the same breath as deeply spiritual ones.

There is no one thing that Jeff Buckley “was,” and that’s exactly what makes him so fascinating as an artist. Those rigid ideas that teenage me had? Buckley’d be the first person to tell you they’re bullshit. He listened to what he wanted to hear, wrote songs that he wanted to sing, and in doing so inspired a generation and beyond to be earnest, to be complex, and to be unashamed about it. 25 years on, that’s the reason his work endures.

On Friday, August 23rd, Grace — the only album released during Jeff Buckley’s lifetime — turns 25 years old, and in honor of that milestone, The Key was thrilled to work with World Cafe Live on curating a lineup of some of Philly’s best voices and biggest Buckley fanatics to perform the album from front to back. Ahead of the concert, we asked the performers their thoughts on what makes Grace great, what about Buckley inspires them, and this is what they said.

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Celebrate the 25th anniversary of Jeff Buckley’s Grace with a Key-curated, all-Philly tribute gig

via World Cafe Live

Jeff Buckley fans will celebrate 25 years of the beautifully strange, heartbreaking and uplifting songs on his iconic album Grace this summer, and on the Philadelphia front, The Key is happy to join the festivities on the night of the album’s anniversary with a tribute concert at World Cafe Live starring some of our favorite local artists.

Singer and multi-instrumentalist Naeemah Maddox and folk rock band The End Of America will be joined by a host other special guests — including Curtis Cooper, Matt Duke, members of Hardwork Movement and Ruby The Hatchet, and more — on August 23 to celebrate the album that was released on that date in 1994. The musical performance will be preceded by a screening of a documentary on Buckley’s life and career. Continue reading →

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Courtney Barnett channels Jeff Buckley on “Everybody Here Hates You” for Record Store Day 7″

Courtney Barnett | photo by Mia Mala McDonals | courtesy of the artist

April 13 is the 12th annual Record Store Day, and Courtney Barnett just released a new song to mark the occasion. The brand new “Everybody Here Hates You” is out now digitally, and it’ll be released as a 7″ along with the previously shared single “Small Talk” this Saturday.

Barnett was reportedly listening to a lot of Jeff Buckley back when she was writing songs for her recent album Tell Me How You Really Feel, so if the new track’s title calls to mind Buckley’s “Everybody Here Wants You,” its probably not a coincidence. Continue reading →

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PREMIERE: Soraia reflects on the late Jeff Buckley in “Wandering Star”

Soraia | photo by Mark Weiss | courtesy of the artist
Soraia | photo by Mark Weiss | courtesy of the artist

Philly hard rock force of nature Soraia is readying its latest project, Dead Reckoning, due out October 13th on Little Steven Van Zandt’s label Wicked Cool Records.

The band’s past releases have focused on high-octane garage rock — overdriven guitars dishing speedy riffage, racing to keep pace with frontwoman ZouZou Mansour’s dynamic vocals — and this record has no shortage of that, right from the opening punch of “Quicksand.” But Soraia also takes advantage of the vinyl LP format to stretch out into the realm of different sounds and styles like glossy 80s pop (“Why?”), arena-ready slow burn anthems (“Come Down, Angel”) and glimmering retro rock, best exemplified in the song we’re premiering for you today, “Wandering Star.”

The penultimate song of the record incorporates classic 50s guitar arpeggios and a tremolo effect in the vein of Santo & Johnny’s “Sleep Walk,” and when the lyrics kick in, Mansour reflects on love and mortality as it relates to one wandering star in particular. Continue reading →

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XPN MusicNotes: Jeff Buckley’s journals, John Prine’s songwriting memoirs will hit bookstores soon

Jeff Buckley | via Rolling Stone

“In choosing these pages to share with the world, I’m giving Jeff the chance to speak with his own voice, for the record… and for his fans to see what a sweet, funny, amazing human being he was.”- Mary Guibert- Jeff Buckley’s mom

It’s hard to believe that this coming May 29th will mark the 20th anniversary of Jeff Buckley’s death, and now comes word that a new book — Jeff Buckley: His Own Voice — is in the works that will feature, for the first time: handwritten journals, along with some unreleased recordings from the late singer-songwriter. Continue reading →

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Listen to the new Jeff Buckley rarities collection You and I via NPR Music

The latest dive into the archives of iconic singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley is You and I,  a ten-song collection of mostly covers from across the canon of 20th century music. We’ve already heard his moving rendition of “I Know It’s Over” by The Smiths. Now, thanks to NPR Music’s First Listen, we can hear the whole record – which features covers of Bob Dylan (“Just Like a Woman”), Bukka White (“Poor Boy Long Way From Home”), Sly & the Family Stone (“Everyday People”) and more.  Continue reading →

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Jeff Buckley’s cover of “I Know It’s Over” by The Smiths will give you chills

There have been mixed reactions over the years to the amount of unfinished recordings, outtakes, demos, rehearsal tapes, etc. trotted out from the Jeff Buckley archives and packaged as commercial releases. But the latest from the much loved singer-songwriter, who passed away in 1997, sounds incredibly promising.

As anybody who owns Grace will tell you, Buckley was a master of interpretation (see his iconic version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” See also: “Lilac Wine,” recorded over the years by Eartha Kitt and Nina Simone). So it’s amazing to hear that You and I, out on March 16th, is almost entirely covers. Continue reading →

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XPN MusicNotes: Watch Madonna Sing Tribute to David Bowie, & Listen to Jeff Buckley’s cover of Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman”

Rebel Rebel You tore your dress…………..Rebel Rebel how could they know?? ❤️#rebelheartour

A photo posted by Madonna (@madonna) on

Madonna is among the many artists who have paid tribute to David Bowie. Watch Madonna cover “Rebel Rebel” live in concert in Houston last night. Continue reading →