Almost twenty years after his death and the albums keep on coming. For someone who released just the one LP when alive, the extraordinary Grace, Jeff Buckley sure has an impressive catalogue. Issued under the strict supervision of Mary Guibert, Jeff’s mother, You and I consists of recordings Buckley made at Steve Addabbo’s Shelter Island studio soon after signing with Columbia Records in 1993. At the time Jeff had no band, and hardly any original material of his own, hence the idea to put him in a professional recording environment, let him play whatever came to mind, and then decide what to do next. And while he was obviously bursting with talent, no-one yet really quite knew how it was all going to work, much less what would happen next.
We begin with an angelic interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman”, on which Buckley turns the song completely inside out, melting one’s heart in the process. Sly Stone’s “Everyday People” gets a soulful, passionate rendering, while his version of Joe Greene’s “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Cryin’” is absolutely breathtaking in its beauty. Buckley sounds less sure of himself on the self-penned “Grace”, what would turn out as the title track of his first album. One gets the feeling that he was more comfortable wearing other people’s clothes than his own. His rendition of Bob Telson’s “Calling You” is so strong I’m surprised it wasn’t considered for inclusion on his debut.
“Dream of You and I” is what most fans will want to hear, and provides a lovely, intimate glimpse into Buckley’s subconscious, as he narrates his way through the song, while playing some exquisite acoustic guitar in the process. It’s no classic, but fascinating nonetheless. His cover of Morrissey’s “The Boy with the Thorn in His Side” shows just how eclectic Jeff’s taste in music was, followed by a less than convincing version of Bukka White’s “Poor Boy Long Way from Home”, where despite the earthy slide guitar, Buckley’s voice is simply too uncontaminated to pull it off successfully. However he more than makes up for it on his rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Night Flight”, on which Jeff truly stretches his vocal range and makes it his own. I hope that Robert Plant has heard it, because I’m sure he’d be impressed (being the Buckley fan that he is).
We finish with a deeply felt and almost overwhelming version of the Smith’s “I Know It’s Over”, which I guarantee will send shivers down the spine of any fan, especially when he repeats the lines “I can feel the soil falling over my head” toward the end. Talk about anthem for doomed youth.
There is a magic to these recordings one cannot easily define. And while there is clearly enough on You and I to make any Buckley devotee sigh as well as salivate, there is nothing mournful about this album – in fact far from it. For this was Buckley on the cusp of being discovered. True, it contains few insights into his creativity beyond what we already know, however that isn’t to say the CD doesn’t have its virtues. Mary Guibert has remained consistent in her determination to protect her son’s legacy, and not see it exploited, which is noble to say the least, since Jeff was no ordinary troubadour, plying his trade for a few pennies. He was more than that, something which this collection makes obvious with every take.
Much like Kurt Cobain, Buckley has his army of worshippers, many of whom are prepared to kneel at the altar of their idol. Listening to You and I is an experience tinged with both sadness as well as celebration, like a butterfly slowly emerging from its cocoon, fully formed and ready to fly. Now if only he hadn’t of chosen to go swimming one night in the muddy Mississippi river, then it’s likely we wouldn’t be hearing these recordings at all.