You and I
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Jeff Buckley’s You and I, a collection of recently unearthed recordings from 1993 released yesterday, could have been an album reviewer’s nightmare. To begin with, it is a posthumous album from a beloved figure, which means that even if it were musically disappointing (it isn’t), it would still have to be considered a treasure. To negatively review a previously unreleased cache of recordings by an artist of Buckley’s stature would surely be missing the point. To celebrate the appearance of such recordings, meanwhile, is only stating the obvious. To further complicate matters, You and I consists largely of covers. How am I supposed to review a singer-songwriter’s album when the “songwriter” angle is all but removed from the equation?
Thankfully, You and I makes it easy. Forget the fact that it consists of ten more precious tracks from Buckley’s tragically curtailed career. Forget the fact that most of these are covers. When you listen to You and I for what it is and nothing more, what you are left with is some immensely moving and pleasurable music.
Of course, You and I doesn’t really feel like a unified album, probably because these recordings were never meant to comprise an album. As you might expect from a collection of demos assembled years after the fact, the tone shifts and the quality varies. There is a casual, off-the-cuff feel to much of the album that occasionally slips into sloppiness. At its best moments, though, You and I’s casualness only serves to underline what an immense talent Buckley was.
And boy are its best moments breathtaking. The first comes at the very top of the album, with the guitar intro to Buckley’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman.” Sounding a little like Pat Metheny’s 1976 debut album Bright Size Life, the opening minute of “Just Like a Woman” is tender, wistful, and poignant. There is a sense of aimlessness and ennui that is especially touching given the circumstances of this music’s circulation. Indeed the introduction to “Just Like a Woman” is so powerfully evocative that when Buckley cuts in with the song’s first line, lingering on the “no” of “nobody feels any pain,” it is awfully hard to believe him.
As captivating as the introduction to “Just Like a Woman” is, my favorite moment on You and I might be the introduction to the third track, “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Cryin.’” As if singing to himself and no one else, Buckley delivers a barely audible a cappella verse before launching into the body of the song, originally recorded by jazz/swing legend Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five. This beguiling prelude packs all of the juice of the song—the charm, the life, the message—into a scant twenty seconds of music. It almost feels like it could have stood on its own, but I doubt I’m the only one who’s glad we still get the rest of the song, which soon becomes a showcase for Buckley’s wonderfully elastic voice. Afterwards, apparently as an explanation for his choice of material, Buckley notes that “I just like that song.” Me too.
You and I isn’t all covers. One Buckley original is a rendition of “Grace,” which would become the lead single and title track of Buckley’s only studio album. There’s also “Dream of You and I,” which by name alone suggests itself to be an early version of “You and I” from 1998’s posthumous Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk. But musical links between “Dream of You and I” and “You and I” are faint if they exist at all, to the extent that titling this album You and I seems like a curious choice. No matter: “Dream of You and I,” which consists of a few simple melodies stitched together by a rambling retelling of one of Buckley’s dreams, is as engaging and wondrous as anything on the album.
After heavy-hitters such as “Just Like a Woman” and his rendition of gospel singer Jevetta Steele's “Calling You,” You and I loosens up a bit on its back half. The album may be more balanced for it, but to my ear the rollicking feel of songs like “Poor Boy Long Way from Home” (traditional blues song, Bukka White version) and “Night Flight” (Led Zeppelin) isn’t Buckley’s forte. The more serious cover of The Smiths' “I Know It’s Over,” then, makes for a satisfying conclusion. Perhaps this is where the title of You and I originated; “love is natural and real,” Buckley sings, “but not for such as you and I, my love.” After “I Know It’s Over” is over, Buckley wraps things up by saying “that’s about it, let’s go home.” Wherever he is now, here’s hoping Jeff Buckley made it home.
Notable Tracks: “Calling You” | “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Cryin’” | “Dream of You and I” | “Just Like a Woman”