It takes a true artist to create a work that tears through the fabric of its time and continues to entrance listeners across the world fifteen years later. It also takes a true artist to equal that recorded material in a live setting. And, unfortunately, it takes a true artist to be inspired to go on an evening swim, fully clothed, in a channel of the Mississippi River. That last idea of Jeff Buckley’s didn’t turn out as well as those behind the creation of his full-length debut, Grace. The spontaneous thought of not just cooling off in the Wolf River, but swimming in it led to his death on the very night he and his band were about to enter the studio to begin recording his second album.
Buckley personified the artist as a young man during his brief flash of brilliance in the early to mid 1990s. He didn’t rise to major fame but left a burning and lasting light with Grace. At a time when the alternative rock world was becoming pigeonholed stylistically, as it moved from the freedom of the independents to the commerciality entrenched by radio programming and the major label world, Buckley brought together the sweeping grandeur rarely noticed in Led Zeppelin with a poet’s approach to songwriting. Grace fulfilled that potent mix. On the 3 DVD/CD deluxe edition of Grace Around the World, his ability to transfer the power of the songs comes through in a number of different settings. With the live performances, mostly from MTV broadcasts when the cable network actually gave a damn about “music,” that chronicle all but one track from the album plus several bonus numbers and a documentary on the artist and his songs, the visual aspect of this release runs nearly three hours. There are also segments of an interview Buckley gave that finds him pontificating more deeply than the interviewer’s queries deserve. It bounces between intellectual depth and analytical bullshit.
One particularly pleasing element of the package is the newfound focus on his unheralded backing band. As charismatic as Buckley was, as hypnotic as his voice was when it traveled from tender to a scream in the span of a phrase, and as good and emotionally grabbing as his songs were, it’s highly unlikely that his music would have had the same impact without a set of sympathetic musicians in the right place at the right time.
While the selection of clips from the various broadcast sources give this release the feel of a fan’s personal collection going viral on the internet, these are the type of recordings that Buckley completists can’t help but embrace. And that’s totally understandable because so little material exists to satisfy them. Others who aren’t already in the pocket have the option of becoming initiated in a smaller way with a Standard Package that brings together the televised Grace tracks on DVD and CD. While a number of posthumous recordings have cropped up in the past decade in an attempt to offer a fuller picture of Buckley, like Grace Around the World they still exist as mournful morsels at what was and what could have been.