Jeff Buckley put out only one album before his death in 1997 but his legend has since steadily grown thanks to posthumous releases.
The latest, You And I, shows Buckley in an element where he excelled – covers.
On Grace, his 1994 album that became a cult classic, the young American singer showed the world a unique voice, romantic and introspective with a hint of soul. He died at age 30 when he drowned swimming in the Mississippi River as he was recording his second album, which emerged a year afterward.
You And I takes Buckley’s story back to February 1993 when the artiste, who had been playing small clubs in New York’s East Village with mixed success, had just signed a contract with Columbia Records.
Buckley, who was also a gifted guitarist capable of mastering various styles, had not yet settled on the musical direction that would define his fateful first album.
“Jeff was such a talented person, with such a deep understanding of music history, all kinds of music – classical, Broadway, rock, R&B, punk, blues,” said Steve Berkowitz, who took Buckley under his wing at Columbia.
“Clearly when I met him, he was extremely talented and had to figure out what it was he was going to do,” he told AFP.
“You only get to make your first record once. For every one, two or three things he decided, he had to eliminate five, six or seven other things,” he said.
To help Buckley find his path, Columbia arranged for the young artist to spend several days in the New York studio of Steve Addabbo, who notably had worked with Suzanne Vega.
Buckley came to the studio with his guitar as well as a harmonium, which eventually helped create the distinctive melancholic sound on Grace.
The artist worked in the studio on his compositions but, as was customary at the clubs, he also played plenty of covers.
The singer – whose estranged father, Tim Buckley, built his own cult following through experimental rock – was known to be able to hold his own for hours playing covers.
Jeff Buckley became famous in part for his version on Grace of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, which the young singer interpreted with a poignant sorrow, a contrast to the original’s more straightforward narrative style.
Nearly all of You And I comes from previously unknown recordings of his covers during the three days in Addabbo’s studio, although two tracks were cut during a session later that year.
Some of the covers appeared in live form at New York’s now defunct Sin-e club on an album Columbia released in 2003, including Buckley’s takes on Bob Dylan’s Just Like A Woman, Gospel singer Jevetta Steel’s Calling You and Night Flight by Led Zeppelin.
New covers on You And I include Buckley’s version of The Smiths’ brooding ballad I Know It’s Over, as well as the classic British band’s more jangly The Boy With The Thorn In His Side.
If Buckley is best remembered for the expressiveness of his ballads, his voice also works wonders on more charged songs including Everyday People by funk legends Sly And The Family Stone, and the blues standard Poor Boy Long Way From Home.
You And I also features an original song, Dream Of You And I, and Buckley’s first recording of his best-known track, Grace.
Berkowitz prefers not to discuss whether You And I will be the last Buckley album.
“Of course there is more material. The decision now is to make this, and it’s beautiful,” he said.
“It’s funny – here come 10 songs and the question is what about the rest That was a fantastic dinner, when do we eat again.” – AFP Relaxnews