During his life-time, Nick Drake sold only a small amount of records and played only a handful of concerts. His rise to prominence in terms of reputation has been slow and gradual through the years. Word of mouth helped his standing grow in England, a compilation or two for the benefit of new generations. A TV advert recently in America brought this most English of singer songwriters an amount of popularity world-wide. His early tragic death has frozen him in time, of course. A shy, sensitive depressive born with a skin too few. A soft, caressing voice over hypnotic folk and jazz influenced guitar patterns. Little matter that Nick was actually a happy child, growing up in a close family, and any form of depression only really set in during the final three or four years of his life. Another effect of being frozen time is being taken for granted - that the guitar style Nick spent hours upon hours upon hours practising and perfecting - was somehow a lucky twist of fate born into the world when Nick was. He was blessed with natural talent of course, but days on end spent merely tuning his guitar, playing figures and patterns, re-tuning, just snippets that would later form the basis of songs. Nicks guitar playing is sometimes overlooked when there is so much else on display through the poetic lyrics, a gorgeous voice and the mystique surrounding his short time in this world. The fact is, as well as all of those things, the guitar style of Nick was completely unique to him, and has been unrepeatable since.
Opening with 'Time Has Told Me' is perfect, a wonderful way to open a debut album, a statement of intent. All the Nick Drake trademarks are present and correct. A lovely, lilting melody. Rich, deep and romantic vocals. The guitar truly is hypnotic, I could just listen to that guitar pattern over and over, all day long. 'River Man' which follows is bordering on genius. The sound of Nick and acoustic is enhanced here by tasteful string arrangements that sweep past and perfectly suit the melodies and vocal lines. Nick sounds especially alluring and mysterious vocally through this song. The lyrics are poetry and everything is just perfect. The guitar is amazingly strong for acoustic guitar playing. 'Three Hours' was written for a friend of Nicks. The lyrics are ever so slightly mysterious in their poetry. So much so, that same friend didn't have the faintest idea what the song was actually about. So, what chance the rest of us?! It hardly matters, the words sound good when sung, the playing and singing as strong and melodic as ever. 'Way To Blue' ditches the guitar entirely to concentrate on orchestrated backing to highlight Nicks voice. A sad, beautiful and mournful melody. Lyrics that sound so full of loneliness. So very lonely, and going straight for the heart. Makes you want to hug somebody to comfort them. So, powerfully strong emotionally, then? Well, yeah. Music works best expressing the range of human emotions. But Nick expressed particular emotions through 'Way To Blue' that perhaps have never been expressed better by anybody else in music. And, that's some compliment. The guitar returns for 'Day Is Done', a short little song to carry on from 'Way To Blue' in a sense - but comes across more as a song of resignation. It's no less beautiful for it though, and the string arrangements are something else.
We were talking about emotions? Well, 'Cello Song' has a fair few for you! A life-affirming joy, Nick sounds happy, the song full of a particular energy bringing to mind a morning breaking in spring-time. It contrasts with Nicks image of being perpetually Autumn. Early in the song he sings 'you have nothing to fear...' which is kind of nice. 'Thoughts Of Mary Jane' continues the feeling of a hazy spring time, moving onto to a feeling of spending a late afternoon with someone beautiful in a field of long grass. 'the way she sings, and her brightly coloured rings....' and his voice is just, ah..... just, well, so very romantic and touching. A brilliant little guitar introduction leads into the breezy and jazzy 'Man In A Shed'. It lacks the romance of other songs, but the performance is as good as anything else here. 'Fruit Tree' is almost impossible to describe. Nick sounds wise, lost, in his dying days. The strings are beautiful, the vocal reaching into your heart and pleading. The guitar goes round, repeating patterns, but changing them through variation, and the lyrics are some of the best Nick ever wrote. 'Saturday Sun' rather than 'Fruit Tree' ends the album. 'Fruit Tree' would have made a rather 'heavy' ending. 'Saturday Sun' is subtly jazz influenced and utterly gorgeous - like being tucked into a bed by a loved one. Really, it is! Well, I think so. Maybe you will too. Adrian Denning