You and I offers another glimpse into Jeff Buckley’s brilliance
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
“I don’t know who wrote that, you know…”
That spoken, semi-apology follows a take on “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Cryin’,” a standard and the third track on You and I, a revealing look into the beginning of Jeff Buckley’s recording journey.
All we’re looking for within these posthumous releases is another glimpse into those brightest of musical minds, the ones whose light went out too soon, who left more “what if?” questions than songs in the catalog.
So it is, sadly, with Buckley. There’s one completed album under his belt and it’s an undisputed masterpiece. There are a handful of live albums that reinforce that, and a collection of studio tracks that were to have been a second album.
Now, further filling out the story is You and I, taped at the start of his career as a recording artist. It’s understated in spots and sometimes even a little unsure, but the end result is the portrait of a growing musician who seems to be getting more comfortable and confident by the minute.
As he settles into the studio environment, he takes a whirl through some favorites that had been dotting his solo sets around New York City, like Led Zeppelin’s “Night Flight” and Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman,” driven by just his voice and delicate electric guitar.
When he offers his own spin on Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People,” it’s not in that typically annoying singer-songwriter fashion of taking a grooving R&B track and dumbing it down into just a dude and an acoustic guitar doing a far more boring version of a once great song. Instead, he boils the song down to just a guitar while maintaining the original feel and pull of the song. What puts it all over is Buckley’s voice soaring on the chorus — he manages to sound like Stone’s entire posse with just one voice and six strings.
For those songs that were already devastatingly simple, Buckley turns in a striking performance. On the Smiths’ masterful “I Know It’s Over,” Buckley switches to an acoustic and lets the words and chords roll through for nearly seven minutes before delivering its climactic coda of, “I can feel the soil falling over my head.” His voice reaches unearthly places here, and it’s nothing short of haunting.
Perhaps the most revealing moment comes from the track that gives us the title, “Dream of You and I.” After starting the song a bit, Buckley starts telling the engineer a story of dream, where a group of kids on a college campus were singing and telling stories in an effort to fight the spread of AIDS, and from there, the song, stuck with him. In this early session, he wanted to take a vocal note before he went in to make what would become Grace. So he stops, and he says:
“Anyway, as long as you’ve got that on tape, I’ll remember that.”
It’s another reminder of what have and what we don’t. He would revisit “You & I” during the sessions for his never-finished follow-up to Grace, released as Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk, but in drastically altered form. There’s so much we don’t have, and every little bit of brilliance that sneaks through becomes gold.
So, here’s 10 more songs, and some of his words, and another fascinating glimpse into a musical force of nature. Gone too soon, but the artistic ripples still carry on.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org