17 June 2010

Your Weekly Dylan Cover [#8]

"Mama, You Been On My Mind"
Jeff Buckley
Original Dylan version recorded during Bringing It All Back Home sessions (1965); studio recording first officially available on The Bootleg Series, Vols 1-3 (1991)

Jeffrey Scott Buckley was born in Anaheim, California in 1966, the only son of musicians Tim Buckley and Mary Guibert. Tim Buckley won critical notoriety for his folk albums in the 1960s, but died of a drug overdose in 1975. Young Jeff recounted that his sole encounter with his father was when he was eight years old.

Nevertheless, Jeff was surrounded by music as he grew up and was attracted to the guitar. After graduating high school, he formally trained for a year at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood. For the ensuing decade, Buckley made a living as a side musician in the Los Angeles area, and then in New York City.

In 1991, Buckley took part in a tribute to his father at St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn. Singing a quartet of songs, he saw this opportunity as a way to honor his absentee father's memory.

Buckley then started to make a name for himself in small clubs in New York, particularly the Sin-e, where he became the house act, mostly performing covers of a diverse array of artists, including Van Morrison, The Smiths, Leonard Cohen, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He also began writing original songs with Gary Lucas.

Creating a buzz in the musical community, record execs started to court Buckley. In 1992, the singer-songwriter signed a three album deal with Columbia Records. The first, Live at Sin-e, was released in 1993. But it was the next long-player in August 1994, Grace, that became a critical smash.

Jeff Buckley tragically drowned in the Wolf River near Memphis, Tennessee on 29 May 1997. He had been living in the city, working on a new album.

In 2004, in honor of the tenth anniversary of Grace, Columbia released the "Legacy Edition," a two CD set including a number of covers. It is from this compilation that Buckley's version of Bob Dylan's "Mama, You Been On My Mind" is culled.

Dylan recorded this song during the Bringing It All Back Home sessions back in 1965, but the understated studio recording was not officially released on record until 1991 on The Bootleg Series (Vol. 1-3). It is classic Dylan, with a simple melody and chord structure that lends itself to interpretation by other artists.

Buckley, in particular, makes it his own. At times simulating Dylan's chords with his spare electric guitar, his fantastic voice embodies the lyrics. It is amazing how mature Dylan's poetry was at this early stage of his career; via Buckley, the words have emotional heft whether one envisions the narrator pining for his lost lover after a separation of one year or twenty.

In an interview with Now magazine back in 1998, Buckley's mother Mary Guibert concluded her talk with Kim Hughes as follows:

"And you know," she offers, her composure finally crumbling, "Even Bob Dylan, in an interview with a French magazine, named Jeff as one of the great songwriters of this decade." Guibert, for the first time, begins to weep. "I don't think you can find any higher praise than from the lips of that gentleman."

Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "Mama, You Been On My Mind"

Live Listening: Bob Dylan & Joan Baez with The Rolling Thunder Revue, "Mama, You Been On My Mind" (Live 1975)

Cover Versions:

Rod Stewart, "Mama, You Been On My Mind" (highly recommended) (Never A Dull Moment, 1972)

Johnny Cash, "Mama, You Been On My Mind" (Orange Blossom Special, 2002 reissue)

The Beatles, "Mama, You Been On My Mind" (George Harrison on lead; studio session 1969)

1 comment:

  1. I've not heard Jeff's version before, having only the original release of 'Grace'. Thanks for posting. I like your blog and shall be lining with mine, if you don't object.