In February 1993, the young Jeff Buckley entered producer Steve Addabbo's Shelter Island Sound studio in New York City to record a series of demos for his new label, Columbia Records. On these tracks, Buckley explored a variety of material as he found his "voice" in the recording studio. Never intended for release, the Shelter Island demos were discovered during research for the 20th anniversary reissue of the late singer's 1994 breakthrough Grace. Now, Columbia Records and Legacy Recordings have released them from the vault on CD, digital download and vinyl as You and I (Columbia/Legacy 88875 17586 2). It is the artist's fourth "core" release following Buckley's tragic death in 1997 at age 30, not counting live albums and the box set The Grace EPs.
The nine Shelter Island demos on You and I, and a tenth from Woodstock, New York's famed Bearsville Studio dating to November 1993, reflect Buckley's "café" period. During this time, he honed his chops for live audiences via a wide variety of cover material. Hence, only two tracks on this new collection are Buckley originals. Happily, these rare, intimate recordings are "un-tuned, unaltered and unedited" per the liner notes by Buckley's mother, co-producer Mary Guibert.
You and I is, appropriately, a low-key record with just his distinctive voice and guitar. Nonetheless, it possesses a great depth of feeling as it showcases Buckley's flexible, haunted tenor and his ability to stretch melodies to the contours of his own, original style. The album is often elegiac and somber but not without moments of light, too, as Buckley tackles a diverse array of material. The opening, a stark, unvarnished take on Dylan's "Just Like a Woman," demands attention and sets the tone. Longtime Buckley fans won't be surprised at the variety of songs which influenced him; here, some of the more disparate choices include a reinvention of Sly and the Family Stone's "Everyday People" and an aching take on Bob Telson's Oscar-nominated ballad from Bagdad Café, "Calling You." (Like other selections here - "Grace," "Night Flight" and "Just Like a Woman" - "Calling You" has been previously released in a different, live version on 2003's Live at Sin-é.)
Buckley's interpretations were always personalized. Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti track "Night Flight" takes on a new character in his stripped-down performance, though Buckley certainly channels a bit of Robert Plant in his high, full-throated vocal delivery. He's loose on "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Cryin'," not the Gerry and the Pacemakers song, but the 1946 standard written by Joe Greene and popularized by the great Louis Jordan. Buckley offers a bit of jazz-styled guitar, too, on the bluesy melody which he performs with relish. Somewhat less successful is his version of Bukka White's folk-blues traditional "Poor Boy Long Way from Home," rendered faithfully with slide guitar but sung in a mannered vocal that doesn't play to the artist's emotional strengths.
Two Jeff Buckley originals are included. "Grace" (co-written by Gary Lucas) is one of the most impassioned performances here, while "Dream of You and I" is a sketch of an in-process song with some gentle guitar work and just a title refrain. On the track, Buckley describes a dream of a "spacey, Deadhead band...a bunch of grunge guys" playing a "space jam" at an AIDS rally as the audience sings and plays along. It's an unusual selection but also unusually affecting, as Buckley was never able to complete the song in his lifetime.
Another pair of songs comes from the Smiths songbook of Morrissey and Johnny Marr: the uptempo tale of "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side" (reportedly inspired by Morrissey's dissatisfaction with the music industry) and "I Know It's Over," a live version of which previously appeared on 2007's So Real: Songs by Jeff Buckley. In light of Buckley's tragic death by drowning in 1997 at 30 years old, it's chilling - painful, even - to hear him sing the latter's lyrics: "Oh mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head/[You] see, the sea wants to take me..."
The music on You and I was never intended for release, but is worthy of it. Vic Anesini has mastered the demos for clean and clear sound, and Mary Guibert's liner notes fill in the context. You and I is not a surprising release, nor one that is an ideal introduction (that would remain Grace, of course)...but it's one that longtime fans and collectors of Jeff Buckley will surely cherish.
You can order You and I at the links below!