For the first time, all of the songs written by Jeff Buckley and Gary Lucas, including five never before officially released, are featured together on the new project from The Niro with the exceptional collaboration of Gary Lucas.
The album spotlights a surprising chapter of Jeff Buckley’s creativity circa 1991-92 when he co-authored with Gary Lucas an entire project never before realized until now. When listening to these songs, it is only natural to wonder why some of these tracks have remained under-rated and five of them never before released up to now, and this despite the great interest the iconic singer has always generated from the public.
For all those who try to answer this question, it is probably useful to remember some facts:
In 1991, Gary Lucas and Jeff Buckley met during a tribute concert to Jeff’s father Tim Buckley. Immediately, they expressed a great desire to collaborate. Gary was 38 years old. After 5 years with Captain Beefheart, he was totally master of his unique style of guitar playing, and his creative juices were flowing. Jeff was 24 and had not yet come into the complete awareness of his incredible talent. During 10 months, they will write together 12 titles for Gary’s band “Gods and Monsters”. The recipe is simple: Gary composes soaring, anthemic guitar instrumentals and Jeff weaves melodies and texts around Gary’s instrumentals of bewildering efficiency. They will work hard hoping to sign a recording contract, and are then offered a development deal with a boutique label distributed by a major. To communicate their “work in progress” at the behest of the label a decision is taken to organize a concert in St. Ann’s Church in Brooklyn as a public showcase. The event signals both the official birth of the project and also paradoxically the very end of their collaboration, despite a three minute standing ovation at the end of the concert from the packed church audience. The next day, Jeff announces to Gary his intention to leave the project and his decision to continue solo.
We know the rest of the story. In 1994 Jeff Buckley released his album “Grace“, one of the most acclaimed albums of the 90s and a masterpiece in the history of rock music. But how many people know that on that album, two of the key tracks, “Grace” and “Mojo Pin”, come directly from the aborted Buckley/Lucas project, a/k/a Gods and Monsters? During the recording sessions for Jeff’s “Grace” album at Bearsville Studios, Jeff asks Gary to come up and record his legendary guitar parts on the two songs which open that album. Jeff duly credits Gary for “magical guitarness” on his album’s list of Special Thanks—and truth be told, it is often Gary you hear playing on these songs, although many people assume it is Jeff’s playing.
Apart from some rare moments shared on stage, the two artists will sadly never collaborate again. Gary relates that the possibility of their working together again was in the cards especially after a joyous reunion in 1997 at the Knitting Factory venue in NYC, but Jeff’s tragic death shortly thereafter will not allow revisiting and composing and publishing more songs by the duo.
From a historical point of view, we can hope that one day the recordings of the St. Ann’s Church concert will be entirely published. When listening to it, it is clear that the quality of the material was enormous, despite the fact that in this primordial production phase, the music was still far from expressing its full potential. But those who have heard the tape can well attest to the power and authenticity of their songs.
For more than 25 years, Gary Lucas has lived with the frustration of not having fully delivered his most incredible artistic collaboration. In 2002, the release of “Songs to No One”, an album of early work by Jeff and Gary, which included a studio demo of “Grace”, live versions of “Mojo Pin”, several hitherto unreleased tracks plus several cover songs, only partially filled this gap.
It is in this context that: The Niro featuring Gary Lucas “The complete Jeff Buckley & Gary Lucas songbook” was born.
The Niro is the name of the ongoing musical project by the Rome-based artist, vocalist and songwriter Davide Combusti, protagonist of the Italian indie-rock scene since 2002. To his credit, he has released 4 acclaimed albums of which 3 are in English. The Niro has opened the concerts of Sondre Lerche, Tom Hingley of Inspiral Carpets, Deep Purple, Badly Drawn Boy and Amy Winehouse. In 2007, Chris Hufford, manager of Radiohead, selected him to sing in the Anti Atlas project, produced with Ned Bigham.
Davide Combusti iis neither a clone nor a disciple of Jeff Buckley. When Gary first discovered him while touring in Italy and made his proposal to record new studio versions of his 12 collaborations with Jeff Buckley, Davide recalled that two years before he gently refused to attend a tribute concert honoring Jeff that was organized by Gary’s Italian tour promoter. However, this time around Davidei was ready to take up this enormous challenge. He recruits the artistic producer Francesco Arpino and proposes the executive production of the project to Pierre Ruiz and his Italian record label, Esordisco. A month later, Gary Lucas arrives in Rome right before Christmas 2018 and the recordings begin. Making such an album is a tremendous challenge. Of course, the tunes rebound in Buckley’s singing style but it would be reductive judging this project only by similarities or differences with Jeff’s voice. To appreciate that challenge and its crazy anachronistic bet, it is necessary to understand that the new production had the absolute necessity at times to take some healthy distance from the original versions.
Whereas the arrangements are nearly always put ting Gary Lucas’s guitars at the center of the scene, some of the rhythmic patterns have been slightly modified and the structure of some of their songs partly rebuilt. Sometimes The Niro harmonizes with himself to create choral sections, while producer Francesco Arpino adds some appropriate touches on keyboards. Finally, Phil Spalding (Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey , Seal, Elton John …) applies his powerful electric bass to invent uncanny counterpoints to Gary’s arpeggios. The final result is a dense, courageous, respectful and above all super-creative album.
It is time now to discover this album and especially, amongst these 12 complete Buckley/ Lucas songs, the five tracks appearing as studio recordings for the first time ever. Proof positive that “No One Must Find You Here”, “Story Without words”, “In the Cantina”, “Distortion” and “Bluebird Blues” have not only a reason to exist and to have survived the sundering of the project back in 1992. They provide ample aural evidence that these formerly unheard songs can rightfully take their place alongside “Grace” and “Mojo Pin” as brilliant jewels in the Buckley/ Lucas canon.
About the album, Gary Lucas writes:
This is a dream come true for me to finally realize modern studio versions of the complete Buckley / Lucas songbook – especially with such a sensitive and talented singer as Davide Combusti and forward- thinking producer like Francesco Arpino. It was a total joy working with them on this album and they constantly surprised me with their fresh interpretation of these songs.
About 3 of the unreleased 3 tracks, Gary said in his book “Touched by Grace”:
No one must find you here: This song was a real epic, cinematic in scope, and with many different movements: I had poured my art and soul into writing it. It expressed all of the emotion I was feeling toward Jeff at the time – All my joy, and hope and fear in the struggle to make this project work.
Story without words: The music I wrote seems to summon forth images of a tragic love affair. Jeff lyrics are appropriately furtive and fraught with anxiety, mirroring my music
In the cantina: It is one of our loviest numbers, with Jeff displaying its extravagant gifts and singing peacock-like, à la Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the “Grace” album, Esordisco is proud to release “The Complete Jeff Buckley and Gary Lucas Songbook”.
Commenting on this Gary Lucas said that it was his personal gift to all the Jeff Buckley lovers all around the world.
Pierre Ruiz, Esordisco