Nick Drake – Pink Moon (1972)

AllMusic Review: After two albums of tastefully orchestrated folk-pop, albeit some of the least demonstrative and most affecting around, Drake chose a radical change for what turned out to be his final album. Not even half-an-hour long, with 11 short songs and no more — he famously remarked at the time that he simply had no more to record — Pink Moon more than anything else is the record that made Drake the cult figure he remains. Specifically, Pink Moon is the bleakest of them all; that the likes of Belle and Sebastian are fans of Drake may be clear enough, but it’s doubtful they could ever achieve the calm, focused anguish of this album, as harrowing as it is attractive. No side musicians or outside performers help this time around — it’s simply Drake and Drake alone on vocals, acoustic guitar, and a bit of piano, recorded by regular producer Joe Boyd but otherwise untouched by anyone else. The lead-off title track was eventually used in a Volkswagen commercial nearly 30 years later, giving him another renewed burst of appreciation — one of life’s many ironies, in that such an affecting song, Drake’s softly keened singing and gentle strumming, could turn up in such a strange context. The remainder of the album follows the same general path, with Drake’s elegant melancholia avoiding sounding pretentious in the least thanks to his continued embrace of simple, tender vocalizing. Meanwhile, the sheer majesty of his guitar playing — consider the opening notes of “Road” or “Parasite” — makes for a breathless wonder to behold. — Ned Raggett

Track Listing

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Pink Moon” 2:06
2. “Place to Be” 2:43
3. “Road” 2:02
4. “Which Will” 2:58
5. “Horn” 1:23
6. “Things Behind the Sun” 3:57
Side two
No. Title Length
1. “Know” 2:26
2. “Parasite” 3:36
3. “Free Ride” 3:06
4. “Harvest Breed” 1:37
5. “From the Morning” 2:30

 

Schill Score: 8/10

 

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Nick Drake – Bryter Layter (1970)

AllMusic Review: With even more of the Fairport Convention crew helping him out — including bassist Dave Pegg and drummer Dave Mattacks along with, again, a bit of help from Richard Thompson — as well as John Cale and a variety of others, Drake tackled another excellent selection of songs on his second album. Demonstrating the abilities shown on Five Leaves Left didn’t consist of a fluke, Bryter Layter featured another set of exquisitely arranged and performed tunes, with producer Joe Boyd and orchestrator Robert Kirby reprising their roles from the earlier release. Starting with the elegant instrumental “Introduction,” as lovely a mood-setting piece as one would want, Bryter Layter indulges in a more playful sound at many points, showing that Drake was far from being a constant king of depression. While his performances remain generally low-key and his voice quietly passionate, the arrangements and surrounding musicians add a considerable amount of pep, as on the jazzy groove of the lengthy “Poor Boy.” The argument could be made that this contravenes the spirit of Drake’s work, but it feels more like a calmer equivalent to the genre-sliding experiments of Van Morrison at around the same time. Numbers that retain a softer approach, like “At the Chime of a City Clock,” still possess a gentle drive to them. Cale’s additions unsurprisingly favor the classically trained side of his personality, with particularly brilliant results on “Northern Sky.” As his performances on keyboards and celeste help set the atmosphere, Drake reaches for a perfectly artful reflection on loss and loneliness and succeeds wonderfully. — Ned Raggett

Track Listing

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Introduction” 1:33
2. “Hazey Jane II” 3:46
3. “At the Chime of a City Clock” 4:47
4. “One of These Things First” 4:52
5. “Hazey Jane I” 4:31
Side two
No. Title Length
6. “Bryter Layter” 3:24
7. “Fly” 3:00
8. “Poor Boy” 6:09
9. “Northern Sky” 3:47
10. “Sunday” 3:42

 

 

Schill Score:  8.75/10

 

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Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left (1969)

AllMusic Review: It’s little wonder why Drake felt frustrated at the lack of commercial success his music initially gathered, considering the help he had on his debut record. Besides fine production from Joe Boyd and assistance from folks like Fairport Convention’s Richard Thompson and his unrelated bass counterpart from Pentangle, Danny Thompson, Drake also recruited school friend Robert Kirby to create most of the just-right string and wind arrangements. His own performance itself steered a careful balance between too-easy accessibility and maudlin self-reflection, combining the best of both worlds while avoiding the pitfalls on either side. The result was a fantastic debut appearance, and if the cult of Drake consistently reads more into his work than is perhaps deserved, Five Leaves Left is still a most successful effort. Having grown out of the amiable but derivative styles captured on the long-circulating series of bootleg home recordings, Drake imbues his tunes with just enough drama — world-weariness in the vocals, carefully paced playing, and more — to make it all work. His lyrics capture a subtle poetry of emotion, as on the pastoral semi-fantasia of “The Thoughts of Mary Jane,” which his soft, articulate singing brings even more to the full. Sometimes he projects a little more clearly, as on the astonishing voice-and-strings combination “Way to Blue,” while elsewhere he’s not so clear, suggesting rather than outlining the mood. Understatement is the key to his songs and performances’ general success, which makes the combination of his vocals and Rocky Dzidzornu’s congas on “Three Hours” and the lovely “‘Cello Song,” to name two instances, so effective. Danny Thompson is the most regular side performer on the album, his bass work providing subtle heft while never standing in the way of the song — kudos well deserved for Boyd’s production as well. — Ned Raggett

Track Listing:

Side A
No. Title Length
1. “Time Has Told Me” 4:27
2. “River Man” 4:21
3. “Three Hours” 6:16
4. “Way to Blue” 3:11
5. “Day Is Done” 2:29
Side B
No. Title Length
6. “‘Cello Song” 4:49
7. “The Thoughts of Mary Jane” 3:22
8. “Man in a Shed” 3:55
9. “Fruit Tree” 4:50
10. “Saturday Sun” 4:03

 

Schill Score: 7/10

 

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