Jeff Buckley only released one album in his life time. But that one album, Grace, is a gem that inspired and influenced a generation of musicians and music fans alike. Targeted as Columbia Records’ ‘next Springsteen/Dylan’ potential superstar, the label supported Jeff’s growth with ever-growing concert tours and the release of that one album which remains to this day one of the most stellar debuts this side of spectacular firsts by Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello.
Unfortunately, the album was only released on CD here in America back in the day and thus we only got to hear a portion of what was on that stunning release. That is, until 2010 when Sony Music Entertainment put out a lovely 180-gram LP version pressed at RTI, one of the most revered of modern day record pressing plants. That issue is a great release that remains for now pretty much the definitive version of the album for most of us (I still want to hear this album remixed into 5.1 surround!). Of course, there is also an uber audiophile two-disc version on 180-gram vinyl spinning at 45 RPM, mastered by Bernie Grundman (also pressed at RTI) ; I have not yet heard that edition, but I would imagine it too would sound fairly tremendous if you have the right gear to appreciate the additional nuance and detail.
That said, it may seem kind of odd that I’m here reviewing a lowly (if you will, at least in audiophile circles) colored vinyl 20th Anniversary limited edition version.
But here we are… and here we go…
You see, several weeks ago while traveling back on the East Coast visiting relatives and friends, I was scoping out various and sundry record stores and thrift shops in search of suburban vinyl treasures. Using a handy dandy app called The Vinyl District (free via the iTunes Store), I scoped out stores around Connecticut at one point and was surprised to see Newbury Comics listed — I didn’t realize they were a chain. Curious, I poked into their website and was thrilled to see a limited edition run they were offering of Jeff Buckley’s Grace on lilac swirl vinyl. Only 2,000 copies were pressed. So, right there on the side of the road in my rental car without giving it a second thought — in a classic impulse buy — I ordered my copies (limit was 2 per person).
By the time I got home two weeks later, the albums were waiting at my apartment door!
So, how does it sound, you ask?
First off, its important to acknowledge that Grace was always a great sounding album even on CD and the RTI pressing sounded spectacular. So, any variations between pressings are going to be fairly subtle unless something stupid was done at the LP disc manufacturing stage.
That said, this version on gorgeous lilac swirl colored vinyl indeed has an ever so slightly different sound. The new pressing is pretty much dead quiet (despite what people often say about colored vinyl it can sound just fine, thank you). The vinyl is thick and perfectly centered. The album comes in a nice protective inner sleeve and has the same inserts as the prior release on black vinyl. The covers are made of the same thick oaktag as the earlier issue well but include a unique gold-foil-embossed number for each copy in the run (I got numbers 1591 and 1592).
It sounds pretty great overall! You can hear Jeff’s guitar pick scratching across the strings on “Last Goodbye” and Matt Johnson’s drums are huge throughout out the album. This album always rocked rather righteously!
]]>But how does it compare to the RTI pressing, you ask? Well, I’ll admit I’m splitting hairs here but I think the RTI pressing is probably a bit better sounding. Pardon my getting all audiophile-y on y’all here (that is why some of you readers are here, right?) but the bass is more well defined and Jeff’s vocals are a tad rounder on the RTI pressing.
I could go on with those sorts of details but for most of you audiophiles I assume that will be more than enough to make your decision choice clear.
By now you may be asking “Mark, why in the world did you buy the kitschy purple-ly vinyl version if you have a perfectly good RTI pressing that you plan to keep and enjoy?”
Good question! And, this, my friends, is part of the mystery that drives some of us record collectors a bit batty. Simply put: I like colored vinyl and it makes playing the album that much more fun!
The RTI pressing sounds great but it is just plain black. And its not even made of the purist of pure black vinyl — my copy has non-audible but very visual anomalies making it looks kinda like a well used beat up old record while spinning on my turntable.
I know, this is getting borderline stupid, right? Collector folks reading this will understand. Non-collectors will scratch their heads.
Ultimately, I’m splitting hairs here to justify a purchase that has no real reason for me personally other than I like it and it makes me happy. Is that really so bad?
Now I have a version I can comfortably bring out to parties or play on my secondary turntable in the living room without too much worry (yeah, right, I know #firstworldproblems).
And what about the extra copy I bought? Well, that may get traded for something else I want or perhaps gifted to an appreciative friend. We’ll see.
So, yeah, if you are an audiophile who wants the best sound, go for the $20 RTI pressing on Columbia Legacy or perhaps spring for the $50-plus 45-RPM two-disc version. But if you want a copy that is going to sound “just fine” and will also look hella cool, well, then this lovely lilac pressing is the one to get.
Now, of course, while I was writing this a friend on Facebook informed me that the posthumous Buckley release called Mystery White Boy (live recordings) has been issued on vinyl and is on sale in some places.
The collecting bug never ends! Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written: www.dialthemusical.com.