on 15 December 2008
Coming to this from Five Leaves Left, it is at first unexpected that Nick Drake chose to change his style almost completely, and then it is a struggle not to feel a disappointment that he didn't continue in the same vein as his debut.
After a listen or two, though, the disappointment all goes away, as you realise that despite having things like drums, horns and strumming, this is still Nick Drake - the songwriting is sublime and the musicianship of all involved is up there with the best. Indeed, I feel that some of the songs, such as the dreamy 'Northern Sky' and bittersweet 'Fly' are among his stronger writing, and there are interesting changes of tone, such as the seeming whimsy on 'One of These Things First'.
What is difficult, however, is to extricate the music from the story of Nick Drake, and it becomes easy to see why he became so disheartened with music when both the 'old style' of Five Leaves Left and his different, more poppy 'new style' failed to get the recognition they both deserved.
on 17 February 2010
The second of Drake's trio of albums, all of which should be considered compulsory purchases, 'Bryter Layter' was the album Drake thought would become a commercial success and its lack of sales is sometimes said to have begun the downward spiral that resulted in the singers death.
There is much can and has been written about Nick Drake and his music (I know I've had some articles published myself) but the bottom line is that, in retrospect, Drake was a man out of time. In the context of the early seventies, this album was hard to market because, although Drake formed part of Joe Boyd's roster of folk artists on Island, this isn't really folk; neither is it pop or jazz, but a curious hybrid that seems to draw on many influences while remaining accessible and solidly English in tone. While I can't see any of Drake's albums as inpenetrable, there is no doubt that 'Bryter Layter' is the album you might be best to start with if you've not heard any of Nick's albums.
After a solid rather than spectacular appreciation of his first album, Drake - who suffered terribly with stage fright - decided to stop touring and let his recorded music do the talking for him. Hiring Richard Thompson, Dave Mattacks, and Dave Pegg (all from Fairport Convention) to help out on lead guitar, drums, and bass, Drake asked ex- Velvet Underground man John Cale to sit in on viola and Celeste. P.P. Arnold and Doris Troy, two highly respected backup singers, were asked to join the sessions while his old friend Robert Kirby returned to handle the bass and string arrangements. This album, according to Nick, was going to be his saving grace. More commercial than it's predecessor `Bryter Layter' it is considered a `masterwork' by Joe Boyd with glorious strings, soaring bass lines, Nick's smoky jazz voice and stunning guitar. None of the tracks fail at all and some, like the stunning 'Northern Sky' are probably among the singer's best and Drake, quite properly, believed that this album would be the making of him.
Time can lend a strange shade to situations. 1970, when Bryter Layter was released, also gave the world its first glimpse of Led Zeppelin II and `Imagine'. Nick wasn't a big name and his inability to play live meant that he had to rely on word of mouth or the pop press to promote his albums. In a year when the Rolling Stones unleashed `Sticky Fingers' and Simon and Garfunkel revealed `Bridge over Troubled Water', nobody wanted to write about Nick Drake. Now of course, there would be no end of opportunties for music like this to be marketed and, over the last decade or so, its interesting to hear snippets of Nick's music cropping up all the time on TV shows or even adverts.
Don't let any of this fool you though; Nick Drake is not an artist whose music is mired in the '70's nor is it lightweight, in fact, I'd argue that 'Bryter Layter' sounds more relevant and fresh than anything Lennon or Paul Simon wrote in 1970. If you have ever felt anything for any type of music, be it Folk, Jazz, Blues or Pop or ever enjoyed a beautiful melody, intense lyrics, stunning guitar, emotional intensity or breathtaking sincerity then you will find something in the recordings of Nick Drake. And often, much, much more.
on 3 July 2008
The middle album of Nick Drake's all too short recording career is his shot at what some world call "pop". Obviously a kind of 'folk-rock pop', some distance from the desolate tone of his last record Pink Moon, and a fuller, more upbeat sound from his sensational debut Five Leaves Left.
Everything about Bryter Layter is extraordinary. Nick's incredible guitar style pushes songs on just like FLL, Joe Boyd's elegant production is still in place, but here he is comlimented by a "who's who" of Island record label-mates as backing, including John Cale, Dave Mattacks, Richard Thompson and Dave Pegg.
The song's themselves are among Drake's very best. The three instrumentals are certainly not filler material, but the other songs simply take ones breath away.
Hazey Jane II, with it's jazzy trumpets is as upbeat as Drake ever sounded. It seems a shame he never made more songs like this.
At The Chime Of A City Clock is the song-ifercation of Nick Drake - only he could have written it. English, understated, clever and ultimately very charming.
One Of These Things First is simpler than his usual fare, but has always been a favourite of mine. The yearning lyrics and driving piano solo last long in the memory.
Hazey Jane I wouldn't hardly be a song but for Drake's incessant plucking, but somehow it works! At one moment every instument falls away bar Nick's guitar before he pulls them all back together, leaving this heart to skip a beat.
Fly is classic Drake: a short, sweet, longing, remarkably poetic lovesong. Again his voice is crying out for love, losing the mind and breaking ones heart.
Poor Boy is a lengthy track that sees Drake almost seem like the leader of a folky-blues band, with rousing backing vocals and grooving piano guitar drums and bass. Again, no-one else could write it.
Northern Sky, almost a duet with Cale, is perhaps the finest love song ever written. I can only think of Joni Mitchell's A Case of You and Nina Simone's If You Knew that come close. It is simply an astonishingly beatiful song.
This album, like his others, should be known by the masses rather than worshipped by the priveliged few. That, however, is something I'm quite pleased about!
on 9 February 2006
Along with his other albums (Five Leaves Left, Pink Moon, Made to Love Magic) my most prized cds. Scale only goes to 5 but Nick is off this scale. Every song could have been recorded yesterday. Seems repetitive just to keep using the same adjectives everyone has used to describe his music, as after all language can limit. So-beautiful, breezy, mood evoking, enchanting, and enveloping, come to mind. Mainly, to become familiar with this artist's work is to learn more about yourself and the truly cosmic forces that keep us together. You will learn more, feel more, gain more intuition upon each playing. Perhaps others recommendations are more articulate, but when you hear his music, you'll get it. He himself says it best "If songs were lines in a conversation, the situation would be fine."
on 26 May 2010
Of the three albums he made in his short life there has always been debate among fans about which is the better, this, or the debut FIVE LEAVES LEFT. As English folk songstress Linda Thompson put it, "Received wisdom is that that BRYTER LAYTER is Nick's best record but Five Leaves Left is equally fantastic". Personally I'm a Five Leaves man, but then I regard that as the best album ever made, and one of life's rarest of things, a straight ten. I often wonder if I would have been so spellbound by his music and the dark mysteries that come with it if he had only made Bryter Layter and PINK MOON. I prefer to think I would, they are still remarkable albums.
You get the feeling from listening to this that the people around Nick were so surprised at the failure of the debut that they decided to put some weight behind the follow up. Manager Joe Boyd once said he didn't have a plan B in the event that Five Leaves didn't break Nick as an artist. The twin plan B strategy they did eventually come up with for this though was brass and backing singers, at least on a couple of the tracks. There is still a mainstay of orchestrated strings and Nick's guitar and voice, and though I prefer the other two albums, it's still completely Nick Drake, and the songs are still earthmoving, and it contains some of his best songs like FLY and NORTHERN SKY.
The Drake trilogy of albums were recorded and released between 1969 and 1971, and then within a few years he was gone. None of the records sold more than 5000 copies apiece during his lifetime. In the generations that followed, millions of us would gradually discover his music and wonder how the hell we had come so far in our own lives without stumbling over it sooner, and why this enigmatic genius had not known success in life. I admit to being forever under his spell, but of all the spells that may possess you, there are none that you would be so blessed to be held captive by as the music of Nick Drake.
on 8 July 2013
This (and Five Leaves Left) has been one my favorites since the mid-70s. As far as the music is concerned, it is five stars all the way. Some of the most beautiful music of the 70s. I still have the original copies of them. I compared this reissue to my LP. The reissue is on thicker and quieter vinyl. The cardboard sleeve is thicker in the reissue but has the wrong colours - the purple is too pinkish. The poster inside has the right colours. I truly dislike the cover on the box, which is a photocopy of a Record & Tape Exchange (the Notting Hill shop) cutout - why did they do this? As far as dumb ideas or failed humour, this is close to getting the cake. Sound quality wise, I still prefer the original. This has more tape hiss, and though the highs are a bit more extended, they do not sound as natural. The soundstage is slightly bigger on the reissue with good separation, but the bass is not as well defined. It mentions that they could not find the original master tape, so had to work off a copy; this probably accounts for the ok sound quality (when compared to the original, but still sounds pretty good). I do not have a CD of this to compare it to. If you already have an original copy, then buying this is not a given. Otherwise, very highly recommended. Btw, the job done on Pink Moon was much better.
on 1 December 1999
Fortunately the work of the late Nick Drake is now finding a new audience. Almost pathologically shy and unable to promote his music with no discernable target audience, Drake found his albums being criminally ignored on their release in the early '70's but he is now cited as a major influence by artists as diverse as Paul Weller, R.E.M and Bernard Butler. This, Nick's second album, is easily his most accesible. Drake's extraordinary guitar work is set amongst an album of jazz and folk influences. Nick's haunting voice and melodies have secured his place in Rock's history and this should be a compulsive purchase for anyone interested in music over the past 40 years.
on 20 November 2000
I only heard of Nick Drake after I'd clicked on a link from Badly Drawn Boy's album. After playing a few track samples I thought I'd give it a go and ordered it. I'm gad I did. This album is one of the best I've heard.... period. It's positive, uplifting, innocent and belies the later fate of its writer. I can't understand how more people don't know about Nick Drake. If you don't already then you shold, really. It's great songwriting. And the orchestration is beautiful.
on 5 May 2013
Having already purchased this album before, this particular purchase was based purely on getting a vinyl copy of the album for some 'vinyl wall art'. Well it doesn't disappoint. The vinyl itself is great and a great repackage of the original. The overall packaging is a little cheesy I guess as you'd expect with a release like this, but the digital download of the album (in MP3 format, with a remastered version and a vinyl version dubbed from disc) is a nice touch.
The music; well I guess if you are reading this you are well aware of the amazing quality of this album. Hazey Jane II and Northern Sky are still two of my favourite tracks of all time and the rest of the tracks follow closely behind. It is a masterpiece and my favourite Nick Drake release.
I bought the late Nick Drake's original LPs as they came out in the early seventies, having been overwhelmed by the grave beauty of his debut Five Leaves Left, with songs like Way To Blue and Time Has Told Me small miracles of condensed songwriting of a very high order from this sad young man.
But it's his flavourful, more upbeat follow-up that I find myself playing more often these days. The orchestral arrangements by the very fine Robert Kirby (an unsung hero of the Nick Drake legend) are exactly right for the songs they adorn, and Nick's impressively subtle and articulate guitar work is still enough to the fore.
With three delightful, concise instrumentals, and seven superlative songs, this is a lovely album which seems to be suitable for any and all seasons, though I tend to think of it as summery, albeit in a bittersweet way. (Five Leaves Left, to indulge the analogy, was perhaps autumnal whereas the downbeat, valedictory Pink Moon was positively wintry.)
The thoughtful At the Chime of a City Clock is followed by the musically upbeat One of These Things First. Both are wonderful songs.
The unusual song Fly is a favourite of mine, while Poor Boy is almost a soul number, and all the more intriguing for it, with a great arrangement and with suitably soulful P.P. Arnold and Doris Troy singing on the catchy chorus.
The two very different Hazey Jane songs are vintage Drake, and Northern Sky is utterly beautiful.
He's something of a legend now, a golden boy who died far too young, leaving a legacy few could match (apart from Sandy Denny or Tim Buckley, both of whom were near contemporaries, both dying tragically young).
All three of his records, along with the compilation Made To Love Magic - if only for its gorgeous title track - are essential.
I never felt magic crazy as this
I never saw moons knew the meaning of the sea
I never heard emotion in the palm of my hand
Or felt sweet breezes in the top of a tree
But now you're here
Brighten my northern sky