All the world's a stage and folk legend Nick Drake--a frail, reclusive romantic whose music was sad but beautifully emancipating and who died young in 1974 in mysterious circumstances--was one of life's reluctant players. As epithets go, the lyrics to Made To Love Magic
("I was born to sail away into a land of never, not to be tied to an old stone grave") aptly convey how Nick Drake's legend continues to gather no moss, even some three decades after his lonely tranquilised farewell. Enthusiastic newcomers should start with any of Drake's three studio albums (Five Leaves Left
, Bryter Layter
, Pink Moon
) and Patrick Humphries' definitive biography but Made To Love Magic
is, nevertheless, essential. Consisting of rare and unheard tracks (many of which have even avoided the mucky paws of the keenest bootlegger) and compiled by those closest to him (sister Gabrielle, engineer John Wood and fellow Cambridge Uni student and string-arranger Robert Kirby) the album is a labour of love. Lost amateur recordings of Nick Drake at University in Cambridge, outtakes from the Five Leaves Left
album, Robert Kirby's unused string arrangements for Magic
and Time of No Reply
finally restored, an early rendition of "Three Hours" featuring Rebop Kwaku Baah (Traffic, Can) on percussion and remixed versions of those despairing final songs from July 1974, including the newly discovered "Tow the Line". This is surely the final word on Nick Drake; unless, of course, those Aix-en-Provences tapes and that mythical lost Peel session from August 1969 ever make themselves known. --Kevin Maidment
The announcement of the discovery of a new Nick Drake song, found at the end of a tape reel and forgotten for over 20 years, has been met with the enthusiasm normally reserved for the earthly materialisation of minor deities.
Leaving aside the merits of the rest of this new compilation of rarities, previously unreleased material and occasional picks from Drake's small but perfectly formed canon, it's ''Tow The Line'' which will prove the most irresistible lure to his vociferous and evangelical fan base.Possibly the last song he ever recorded, it mines a similar vein to the other songs taped shortly before his death. Sparse and direct, its resigned tone is enhanced by an insistent guitar and the quiet poignancy of Drake's vocal.
Whether its worth the price of admission alone depends on your devotion to the Cult of Drake, but certainly there's other startling material on offer, including a version of ''Three Hours'' in which Nick is accompanied by future Traffic percussionist Reebop Kwaakhu Baah and an unknown flautist. There's also a solo rendition of ''River Man'' dating from 1968 and recorded in a Cambridge college bedroom by Drake's friend and future arranger Robert Kirby. Shorn of its string arrangement, Drake's incredible guitar playing and effortless melodic sense are all the more apparent.
Less effective is the re-arrangement of ''I Was Made To Love Magic'', ditching Richard Hewson's dire string arrangement heard on the posthumous Time of No Reply album and replacing it with Kirby's original charts. Whatever the ethics of such posthumous tinkering, its just not a particularly great song.
The addition of strings to ''Time Of No Reply'' itself is more successful, and at least benefits from the presence of Drakes intricate guitar filigree, but the effect remains slightly akin to coming home and finding someones redecorated your favourite room without asking you. That said, Kirby's arrangements remain benchmarks of sensitivity.
More welcome are remixed versions of Drake's other final recordings, including a previously unreleased version of ''Hanging OnA Star''. Impassioned and austere, they retain their gripping allure, although sensitive listeners may find ''Black Eyed Dog'''s creeping foreboding slightly too harrowing in the light of Drake's subsequent fate.
One wonders what would have happened had Drake followed his own advice, overcome his demons and towed the line of contemporary record industry mores; interviews, tours, appearances on Whistle Test.This has led some critics to argue that Drake's tragic end lends his music a gravitas it doesn't always deserve.
Certainly, Drake's death has frozen his reputation in aspic -the eternal youth, gilded with romantic allure; a Chatterton for our time. However, none of this should diminish the achievement of his music, which continues to retain its honest and beguiling power despite this compilation's admittedly minor faults.
Review courtesy of Radio 2's Folk site --Mick Fitzsimmons
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