Thursday, August 9, 2007

A Few Thoughts Regarding Nick Drake's "Family Tree"

OK, so I understand why the folks at RollingStone didn't give this new Nick Drake treasury a ringing endorsement, and yes, I have to agree that there are indeed some extraneous elements to this posthumous release (i.e the charming, though forgettable Kegelstatt Trio, or the 30 second album intro). Having said all this, there are some very warm and endearing moments to this collection that warrant further consideration.

The low-fi hiss of the old analogue tapes, the occasional clanging of glasses in the background, or murmuring between tracks all combine to make these recordings even more endearing. It is a refreshing break from the digitized slick pop machine of the Itunes era, and I have found myself drawn into the warmth and intimacy of these home recordings, lovingly compiled by Drake's sister, Gabrielle. (Note: her letter to her brother in the liner notes is heart wrenching and beautiful).

Though not used commonly as adjectives to describe Nick Drake's music, there are actually some playful and fun elements to a few of these tracks, including a slightly subversive bar room diddy written by Robin Frederick called "Been Smoking Too Long", and an upbeat version of the traditional tune "Black Mountain Blues". Both tracks have clear & confident guitar picking and you can hear the joy in Nick Drake's voice as he discovers his muse. This is definitely the sound of a young, emerging artist finding his voice and revelling in his artistic abilities.

Also of note are a few covers of Jackson C. Frank tunes, including a mellow and meandering version of ' "Blues Runs The Game", and "Here Comes The Blues", which you can hear as laying the foundation for the development of Nick Drake's song writing a few years down the road.

More of a curiosity than essential canon is the home demo of Drake's own masterful "Day is Done", offering a glimpse of the brilliance yet to come on his later studio recordings. If anything, it provides a snapshot of the artist's growth and development, including his own self conscious nervous laughter in the middle of the song.

A few key tracks have already latched themselves onto me permanently and are refusing to let go. I am sure I will be humming a few of them on many care-free, bare feet in the grass summer days to come. As for Nick Drake's brilliant "official" albums, I'll save those for my reflective Autumn walks, though I am thankful now that I have another season in which to appreciate his music.

Now excuse me as I go out and track down some Folkways recordings to satisfy my newly required low-fidelity cravings!

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