You and I, Jeff Buckley’s latest posthumous release, is aptly titled — it’s intimate, stark and revealing. It is Buckley and his guitar, confronting the microphone and honing in on his craft. The album features only one original piece, “Calling You,” in which Buckley plucks away at his guitar and describes a dream. “Calling You” aside, the work is comprised almost entirely of covers recorded as demos. These covers ultimately showcase Buckley’s strengths while uncovering some of his few weaknesses in tackling styles outside of his Grace scope.
You and I takes on big, genre-defining names like Bob Dylan, Sly and the Family Stone, Led Zeppelin and The Smiths — some more successfully than others. Starting out with Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman,” Buckley seems at home. Dancing across the melodies and building up the vocals, the track seems to seep out of him without strain or thought.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for his renditions of “Everyday People” and “Poor Boy Long Way from Home.” The groove of Sly and the Family Stone is lost with Buckley, as the vocals and sporadic guitar seem forced. His voice is at times wobbly and unpolished, but not without obvious effort. His rendition of “Poor Boy Long Way from Home” follows much in the same style. Buckley sticks fairly closely to Bukka White’s original instrumentation, but is unable to fully capture the blues feel that is so essential to conveying the track’s emotion.
Though still straying further from his Grace roots, Buckley’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Night Flight” is a bigger success than the aforementioned tracks. The song’s instrumentation is lively but has an edge; it prompts you to envision Buckley in a dimly-lit studio engulfed in his own musicality. The vocals are on the same wavelength as that of Robert Plant, but Buckley’s higher register notes seem strained in comparison to the original. Despite the vocal problems, the track shows Buckley’s passion for music. He is an artist, appreciating, enjoying and being inspired by another artist’s work in the best way he knows — musically.
The highlights of the album come in the covers of The Smiths’ songs “The Boy With the Thorn In His Side” and “I Know It’s Over.” The former manages to capture The Smiths’ jangling instrumentation and the soaring vocals of Morrissey without creating a copycat feel. For the most part, Buckley sticks closely to the original, but he does slow down and mellow out the track a bit. Adding some length, he expands upon the original guitar melody. Repeating phrases and rhythms, Buckley gives himself room to interact with the instrumentation and add in vocal improvisations.
The album wraps with the latter Smiths cover, “I Know It’s Over.” Flowing out of him so naturally, listeners unfamiliar with the original track would never guess this final song was not penned by Buckley himself. The finality and delicacy of the track is even more poignant when considering Buckley’s young life and untimely fate. Lines like “See, the sea wants to take me” and “Love is natural and real” are both foreboding and characteristic of Buckley’s work and life.
“I Know It’s Over” itself is beautiful, but can also be used to make a bigger statement. When thinking about the original singer, Morrissey, and the iconic status and influence that he and The Smiths had on the music industry, the short life of Buckley seems all the more bitter. It prompts listeners to ask, “What if?” The finality of the title of the track may be an indicator that the Buckley’s posthumous releases, as there have been many before You and I, are coming to an end. If this is the case, You and I is the perfect note to close on; a note that is telling, experimental and sweet.