Review: Jeff Buckley – You and I

Juff Buckley - You And ISheggsThe first hurdle you have to overcome if you are going to announce a new Jeff Buckley album is exactly the reaction I had when presented with the prospect of reviewing such a release, “Really? Another new album? Where have they managed to dig this one up from? He has been dead almost 20 years” It’s a natural reaction when you consider that Jeff Buckley only actually released one album in his lifetime. Since he died tragically young at the age of 30; 19 years ago; this is no less than the 7th album to be released.

The interest in Jeff Buckley has been pretty constant since that time. It may have only been the one album but Grace was an incredible debut and an incredible work all round that has lasted and will last the ravages of time.  For those less familiar with Buckley, his life and work he was the Nick Drake of the 90’s grunge generation. In a time where it was suddenly OK, to sing and talk about your feelings, in a raw and emotionally honest way Buckley may have not had the anger of his some of his contemporaries but instead in that voice, there was a soulfulness and truth that much like Drake seemed endless and as if they had both been subject to a deeper knowing than we could comprehend. I was transfixed when Grace came out during my university days and it is one of those albums that I regularly still go back to and it takes me back to those days every time.

So what does You and I have to offer that the countless other albums have not so far. Most of those albums released were live albums for a start. So we are told that all of these tracks were recorded in Steve Addabbos Shelter Studios during February 1993 and have remained buried until now. The relevance of this is twofold. Firstly, the reason that Grace has left such a great legacy, it was not just the voice, the guitar work and the songs but the production on that album was instrumental in making the album what it was. It is as strong as the other elements mentioned in characterising its sound. This is just Jeff Buckley and his guitar no other instruments or people are involved, but it is studio quality, so at times the takes on the songs may be rough around the edges but the production is good, clear and feels professional. So what we get is up close and personal with Jeff Buckley at the same time he was recording Grace. You get an insight into where he as at that time and with the production being good it feels like an intimate performance. What is also a little different from previous recordings is that this album is mostly made up of covers, so these are tracks chosen and loved by Buckley and given his unique twist. Perhaps for someone who is as equally famous for his cover of Leonard Cohens “Hallelujah” there is a symmetry to this

So, this album can roughly but categorised into the following categories:

Cover songs that could have been singles

Demonstrated again with this album was the way that Buckley could make a song entirely his own whilst still retaining the essence of the original. Most of my fears that this was just another album released for the money are instantly dispelled with album opener a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman”. This quite simply is one of the best Dylan cover I have heard. It ticks the two main boxes that are needed when covering a song; are you able to make the song your own? Can you make the song at least as good as the original? What Buckley is able to do with this cover is firstly create a song that does not sound like Dylan, it doesn’t have the Dylan nuances that so many covers have and make’s Dylan himself so unique and covers hard to individualise. From the moment that Buckley starts playing his guitar, you are reminded that although known for his voice and range Buckley was actually a pretty capable blues guitar player and he was able to convey as much as much emotion through his guitar playing as his voice. Once he does start singing I was completely drawn in. What makes this cover so special though is the arrangement, its differently paced than the orignal and emphasises the key elements of the song in a different way. It is more laid back and more personal to the listener rather than the narrator in Dylan’s version. The guitar tone is particular to Buckley and works well on the song.

“Everyday People” by The Sly and the Family Stone is an interesting choice and demonstrates the range of influences that Buckley had. Buckley even manages to sound a little chipper during the chorus. Obviously the funky guitar playing is no problem for Buckley and although Buckley does at times display a laid back attitude it is different to Sly and the Family Stones Version. Despite the fun of hearing Buckley sing the Everyday people chorus, with his Scooby doodby doobies etc there’s still that melancholy you find on all his records, in the more reflective parts of the song. Great left field choice that will have you tapping along

The third choice of covers on this album which could have been a single is the excellent “Calling You”, originally a hit for Jevetta Steele a US based gospel singer. This is a haunting song whichever version you listen to but as covers go this was ideally set for Jeff Buckley. Jevetta’s style and crooning is actually very similar to Buckley’s and at time reminds you of parts of Grace. The original is minimalistic, although produced in a different style so Buckley didn’t need to actually do much to this song to make it his own. His understated guitar playing suits well, and his plaintive voice in the verses and highs of the chorus all add together to make this a fantastic cover. Not many people could top Jevettas cries on this song but Buckley manages that well

The Originals

There are two originals thrown on to the album for good measure. We are all familiar with “Grace” and hearing this as a solo piece just reminds you of what a talent Buckley was. There’s not a lot to write about this, it’s a truly brilliant song and Buckley nails it here. The other choice, the album title “You and I” is one of the type of archive songs I worry that they will keep finding. It has a little music but is mostly Buckley talking about a dream he had. He may have recorded it for an idea or just out of interest. It is interesting but not really a song. It captures a time in his life but probably all.

The Older Covers

Considering the sound of Buckley’s debut, it’s not hard to see that he had a whole range of influences. First up we have “Don’t Let The Sun Catch Your Cryin” which Buckley admits on tape at the end of the song as to not know who actually wrote it. Buckley’s version is great, he has an almost smokey sounding voice on this cover and captures the essence and times of this song well. The guitar is classically understated and comes to life at just the right times. This is a classic swing song but Buckley adds a nice early blues style guitar to it. We also have a straight blues cover with the traditional “Poor Boy Long Way From Home”, Buckley plays the steel slide guitar on this track, this is a great song which Buckley finds with the right balance of lightness and upbeatness but still forever with that longing melancholy. Finally, we have a cover of Led Zeppelins “Night Flight” which I thoroughly enjoyed and has an urgency not normally associated with Buckley

The Smith’s Covers

There are two The Smiths covers included on this album and what I find most interesting about them, is that they are really just straight forward covers of the songs. You get the impression that Buckley loved the Smiths and just enjoyed playing them. They are not as individual as other Buckley covers (to be honest it is hard to find decent The Smiths cover) but if anyone has the notes to match Mozzer it was Buckley

One of the reasons that Jeff Buckley was so popular above and beyond his guitar playing, voice and song writing was that he was always able to convey an intimacy with the listener, whether that was on record or live (I was lucky enough to witness Buckley play at Glastonbury on a mid afternoon main stage slot in 1995 and I like everyone else around me was mesmerised by the man, his charisma and playing, it was as if you were the only one there). So You and I has completely put my cynicism to the side.  It does appear in this case that some genuinely lost recordings were found. They are good quality produced and recorded well and are from a period when Jeff Buckley really was finding his own voice.

These aren’t second tracks, or tracks he did not find good enough for the album but covers that he is so obviously enjoying playing. Of course he intended to record them but these were never a finished record so despite the great production there are moments where the  vocals peak or it may not have come out like he had hoped but other than that, this isn’t a record for the completist but for fans of Jeff Buckley old and new.

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