October 8, 2008

Artist Evolution: Nick Drake

I'm going to do something that I haven't done in a long time - an Artist Evolution Feature. The artist that I'm choosing for this is the late Nick Drake, one of my absolute favorite musicians of all time, and one whom I hold in especially high regard. Drake first captured my attention when I listened to the Garden State soundtrack when that was released. At first, I didn't really pay much attention to th song, and it wasn't until a couple years later, when I came across a couple other songs that I really began to listen to his works.

Drake was born on June 18th, 1948 in Burma, where he lived until the age of two, when his family moved to England - Tanworth-In-Arden. He played music from a fairly young age, but it was when he turned 16 that he turned to the guitar and began writing his own music shortly there after. He attended college in Cambridge where he was noticed and encouraged to sign to Island records, where he began to tour and record music. During this time, he was reclusive, and stopped performing in public in 1970. His first record was Five Leaves Left, released in 1969, which was followed up by Bryter Layter in 1970.

Drake was a troubled young man, and after submitting Pink Moon in 1972, he claimed that he was done with music. A year later, however, he began writing again, but a year later, in 1974, he was found dead in his bed, apparently of an overdose of anti-depressants. A collection of his music was released in 1979, Fruit Tree, and in 1994, Way to Blue, a best-of collection was released. Finally, in 2007, a collection of rarities and masters was collected and released in a two disc set called Family Tree.

Drake's music has been extremely influential to a number of artists, and has found a resurgence in the past couple years, thanks to the use of his music in commercials and the aforementioned Garden State Soundtrack. One of my earlier features, Artist Comparison, featured Nick Drake against newcomer Alexi Murdoch, and I suspect that Jose Gonzalez and numerous others have been influenced, while artists such as Tim Reynolds, My Morning Jacket, Denison Witmer and Norah Jones have all covered his songs.

Five Leaves Left contains some of my favorite Drake songs - Time Has Told Me, River Man, Day Is Done and Way to Blue. This introduction features somber vocals and lyrics, and the delicate work with his guitar. I'm really reminded of a rainy day when I listen to this, but I'm never put in a depressed mood while listening to it. This album seems down, but it always keeps me positive.

Bryter Layter has quite a different feel from its predecessor. There's a lot more emphasis on strings right from the get go, with Drake's guitarwork cutting right through in an elegant fashion. There's horns, electric guitar and and overall richer and more energetic sound. There's more life here.

Pink Moon is more of a return to the sound of Five Leaves Left - Drake recorded it solo, and there is an incredibly stark and lone feeling to the entire album. What hasn't changed over all of the albums here have been the level of songwriting - there is an incredible unity between the vocals and guitar work, the culmination of his prior albums and the peak of his career.

The remainder of Drake's music is mixed, with several collections being released after his death. I'm particularly fond of Made to Love Magic, while I'm not terribly thrilled with Family Tree. There are several very, very good songs here, but others, unsurprisingly, aren't finished, and are merely demos that have an incredibly rough feel to them that doesn't nearly match up to his other works. What it does do, however, is give some insight into his personality, when he speaks, or when he sings with his mother.

It's a shame that he died at such a tragic, young age. Drake, in my opinion, was not just one of the world's greatest singer-songwriters, he was a great poet, and with his death, we only saw a glimpse of his potential.

River Man - Nick Drake
Hazy Jane II - Nick Drake
Place To Be - Nick Drake
Three Hours - Nick Drake
Blues Run the Game (Jackson C Frank) - Nick Drake