Jeff Buckley, and his incredible album ‘Grace’, is surely well-known to all fans of great music. But what may not be so well-known is where some of the songs actually come from. Before going solo, Jeff was lead singer in Gary Lucas’s band Gods and Monsters, and together they wrote 12 songs. They all began life with Gary composing solo guitar instrumentals, complete with all the riffs and harmonic structure, to which Jeff then added the vocal melody and lyrics. After Jeff left, he decided to record some of these songs himself, so ‘Grace’ included both “Mojo Pin” and the title track itself, while the later ‘Songs to No One’ also included some of their early work together. Here we have all the material written by Lucas and Buckley (including five previously unheard songs) being performed in the latest album by The Niro, which is the name of the ongoing musical project by Rome-based artist, vocalist and songwriter Davide Combusti, protagonist of the Italian indie-rock scene since 2002. Lucas has also been brought onboard, providing acoustic and electric guitars with the line-up completed by Francesco Arpino (piano, keyboards, additional guitars), Phil Spalding (bass), Puccio Panettieri (drums), Mattia Boschi (cello) and Maurizio Mariani (bass).
One has to admire Combusti, as by even attempting this album he is going to be automatically compared with one of the finest singers the world has ever seen, and if that wasn’t enough one of the songs he is performing is “Grace” itself! But, given that Lucas is involved I was intrigued to hear exactly what this album would sound like, and to say I walked away impressed is something of an understatement. Combusti has a very fine voice indeed, and although he has used some vocal gymnastics, he has kept this more grounded than the originals. I also enjoyed the way the arrangements differ greatly from song to song, so we can have a pounding rock number one minute, then one with just vocals and guitar the next. “Distortion” sounds like U2 with additional guitars and should be a hit, but I imagine it is the final number which most people will want to hear first. This is where the band perform “Grace”, and the cello makes a huge impact on this number, providing a swelling undertone against the frantic acoustic guitar.
Buckley was a huge talent, gone far too soon just like his father, and here one of his early co-writers has collaborated with some fine musicians and a wonderful singer to do their legacy justice. This is indispensable for Buckley fans, but also should be sought out by anyone who loves great music.
9/10 Kev Rowland