Review by Aidan Garrett
Soon after Jeff Buckley was signed by Columbia Records in late 1992 at only 26 years old, he went into the studio planning to record covers and demos to give his label management a sense of his style. He chose tracks among his ever-expanding collection of renditions that he had grown accustomed to playing in the East Village. Now, nineteen years after Buckley’s tragic drowning, these sessions are being publicly released for the first time, in a compilation album titled You and I. The record features two Jeff Buckley originals; a crude, unadorned version of “Grace,” one of his most acclaimed and beloved tracks, as well as the track “Dreams of You and I,” a fragment of a tune that provides insight into Buckley’s songwriting process. In the song, Buckley recalls how the melody came to him in a dream, revealing Buckley’s gentle and introspective nature.
The rest of the album consists of a remarkably diverse set of covers. From Led Zeppelin to the Smiths to Sly Stone to Bob Dylan, Buckley chooses an eclectic mix reminiscent of his masterful renditions of Nina Simone and Leonard Cohen songs included on Grace, the only album released during his lifetime. Buckley noted that, around this time, covering songs had become so routine for Buckley that he struggled with creating his own music.
The production of this album is sparse, the only instrument being Buckley’s guitar. However, this understated approach creates the perfect backdrop for Buckley to exhibit his unique voice. A majority of the covers consist of drawn-out melodies that climax towards the end, providing a template for Buckley to wail and howl wildly over the surging guitar rhythms. Buckley thought of his voice as an extra instrument and the varying intonations and pronunciations reflect his mastery.
While Buckley’s angelic voice is his signature characteristic, his underrated guitar playing is exhibited throughout this album. From the slide guitar of “Poor Boy Long Way from Home” to the fluid strumming of “Grace,” Buckley effortlessly glides through different genres and approaches. It was during this era of Buckley’s life that he was mentored by Gary Lucas, the virtuoso guitarist who co-wrote both “Mojo Pin” and “Grace” for Buckley’s debut album.
Though the songs are at the very least intriguing, the decision to release these recordings posthumously doesn’t quite sit right. It is quite clear that this album is wholly catered to the Buckley die-hards. To the obsessed fan, this compilation neatly organizes previously unreleased tracks and others only available on bootleg collections. A first-time listener to Buckley, however, could easily find this album overwrought and in need of an editor. Moreover, it is unlikely that Buckley ever wanted these sessions released, as during the recording he would call his mother and express his dissatisfaction with the demos.
When an unreleased snippet of a Buckley song provides the rationale for another posthumous album of covers and outtakes, one cannot shake the feeling that the record company is milking Buckley’s legacy as much as it can. Although there are no bad songs on this album, they are not really necessary either. Nearly all of them can be characterized as unfinished and gratuitous.
While You and I provides a window into Buckley’s individual ideas and influences, one is better off listening to the Legacy Edition of Buckley’s Live at Sin-é concert, which better displays his remarkable talent during this period of his life. Ultimately, while this album reveals another window into Buckley’s rise to stardom, by releasing yet another posthumous album of unfinished material, Columbia Records is staining, not adding to Buckley’s pristine reputation.