on 13 August 2000
Having sampled Nick Drake's genius on "Way to Blue - An introduction to Nick Drake", I went out and bought all three of his main albums. They are all worthy of five stars, but while the stark "Pink Moon" perhaps has a couple of weak links and "Bryter Later" relies on some instrumental passages, I would say that "Five Leaves Left" stands as the ultimate monument to Nick Drake's brilliance.
It contains arguably his greatest songs, the lilting, yearning "River Man" and the harrowing, prophetic "Fruit Tree". There is playfulness too in "The Thoughts of Mary Jane" and "Man in a Shed" but all tinged with his trademark "wistfulness" Other classics are "Day is Done", "Saturday Sun" and the beautiful "Cello Song", which shows off his almost inimitable guitar technique. The whole album boasts an incredible range of interesting rhythms and melodies. If you liked Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks" you'll certainly like this
Drake on this record was whimsical yet poignant, hopeful yet hurt. He sang in a whisper that spoke a whole encyclopaedia of volumes. He was one of this country's greatest songwriters and a great musician too. A lot of stuff I used to like now sounds clumsy after listening to this.
Phew! But that's enough. Don't take my word for it. Buy this - and the other two albums too.
on 20 May 2000
Nick Drake was incredible; everyone who's heard him play will agree. "Five leaves left" was his first album, and was promptly ignored by critics and consumers alike upon its release; only relatively recently has his talent started to be properly realised. This is definitely English folk music, but equally has definite jazz, blues and occasionally classical nuances; given that Nick was a public-school boy, it's perhaps not so surprising that his deep, resonant voice has more than a little of an upper-class English accent.
Most of the songs on the album are accompanied by Nick on acoustic guitar, and many of them have string arrangements by his friend Robert Kirby. Nick's guitar playing has attracted attention from just about everyone; it was rare for him to write any song in a conventional tuning, and the work he put into retuning the instrument is apparent from the big, open sounding, slightly jazzy voicings you can hear throughout the album (Incidentally, I hate to be picky, but another reviewer says that he played 12-string guitar; he only ever recorded with one guitar, a Guild M20 six string acoustic).
I suppose the best way to describe the tone of the album would be to use the word "wistful"- there's no out-and-out depression here (as can certainly be heard in some of his later recordings), but sadness permeates all the recordings at some level. It's a hopelessly romantic, dreamy, incredibly beautiful album; anyone with a soul cannot help but fall in love with it.
on 12 August 2006
For anyone who hasn't listened to Nick Drake's music before, this is probably the best place to start. Listen to this and I guarantee that you will buy 'Pink Moon' and 'Bryter Later' within weeks - if you do you won't be disappointed. Both in their own way are as good as this and that's saying something! 'Five Leaves Left' is simply a masterpiece. There isn't a bad or even a mediocre track on this album. Every single note is imbued with a beauty that few artists ever attain, yet this was Drake's debut! From the wonderful opener "Time Has Told Me" to the bluesy "Saturday Sun" the album maintains excellent quality. All Drake's guitar playing and singing is fantastic but what really makes this album one of the greatest albums ever made are the collection of melancholic string-laden songs that make up the meat of the album. "Way To Blue", "Day Is Done" and "Cello Song" are masterpieces, simply stunning. Listen to them and be beguiled. Once you've heard these tracks you will forever compare them to anything you listen to and mostly find everything else wanting. Yet THE standout track on the album rises above even this. "Fruit Tree" just has to be one of the saddest songs ever recorded especially in view of what eventually became of Nick Drake - utterly prescient. 'Five Leaves Left' is truly one of the best albums I've ever heard. If you haven't heard it yet, get it. It'll be the best thing you ever do! Couldn't be anything but 10/10
on 5 March 2005
My introduction to Nick Drake was around the early 90s through a friend who had been introduced to him by his father - a guitarist. It's strange how Nick Drake's music often spreads like that. I so adore this album, it has one of my favourite tracks of all time "River Man" on it but I also love his other two albums as well. I've re-written what I wanted to say about Five Leaves Left and Nick Drake so many times, but I can't review / explain him. You simply have to take the plunge and experience Nick. I would say one word though - Genius - a much paraded word and I hate using it, but Nick was a very great and rare natural ability. He produced music with a deceptively simple sound but constructed with much complexity in composition, playing and emotion. Nick Drake's music can bring a tear to my eye, and no-one else's music does that. Just buy his three albums, after buying one you will probably buy them all eventually anyway, and it it'll be your life's best purchase. Like me you'll fall in love with his gentle musical genius, and everyone you play the albums to will do too.
on 26 March 2007
Five leaves left...the message Rizla use to let you know you have nearly run out...is the title Nick Drake used for his debut album. He was to only produce two more in his short tragic life, but in my opinion this is probably his best. The songs all have a haunted melancholic feel, but like an Edvard Munch painting this is turned into a thing of great beauty.
It is quite common for an artist's debut album to turn out to be their best. After all, they come to the starting blocks with a lifetime of their output to hand. As soon as they sign a contract they are on a 12 month treadmill to repeat the same feat.
These languid, autumnal, acoustic guitar-led tunes snake their way through the album, joined along the way by some achingly beautiful string arrangements, particularly on the magnificent River Man...which has to be his finest moment...closely followed by Fruit Tree.
Drakes voice had a tender yearning and infectious calm that belied his inner torment, and awareness of his suicide adds poignant hindsight to the lyrics.
Similarities have been drawn before to stablemate John Martyn. This is not surprising... Drake was joined on the album by the great Danny Thompson on double bass, Tristam Fry on drums...both of whom played on Martyn's albums.
It's consistently strong album the quality remains faultless right through...and although I recommend this as a first taster to Drake, chances are you'll end up buying the other two...and they are all great great albums.
Five leaves Left remains a towering achievement from a sadly missed British artist of immeasurable sensitivity. Timeless.
on 17 September 2013
This is in reference to the 2013 Deluxe boxset.
The album needs no introduction, it's a 5-star job.
This deluxe boxset though, is a shame and a missed opportunity.
* The labels are way off the mark (wrong colour, wrong logo positioning, missing track details), so not as advertised
* Audible ticks on the pressing, especially Time has Told Me
* Box is not clamshell type as advertised
* Images on covers are low quality, slightly out of focus
* The vinyl is from a digital source (as explained by John Wood), but the box notes say it is the analogue original
Just a shame really, as the kind of people who are buying this boxset are the kind of people who care about cherished details.
Perfect album, less-than-perfectly presented.
on 18 May 2007
I resisted the pressure to buy a Nick Drake album for many years believing that his cult status was more the result of heavy promotion than unusual talent.
Curiosity finally overcame me, although I still waited for an album to be on special offer...
Listening for the first time I was fully prepared to be singularly undewhelmed. However, from the first beautiful acoustic note I was entirely captivated.
Few people, including myself, have the literary skills to do justice to this incredible album so you will simply have to experience the delight for yourself.
on 30 April 2001
Nick Drake is unlikely to attract the type of mass hype similar to the "discovery" of Eva Cassidy but since his death in the early 70's he has amassed a growing body of loyal fans who appreciate his unique musical legacy. Despite Drake's reputation for morbidly depressive songs, Five Leaves Left is a thoughtful and at times intense exploration of the human condition but while some of the themes are profound, the accompanying music is soothing and melodic as is his intimate vocals. "Time Has Told Me" is a classic Drake with lovely guitar picking and poetic lyrics: "Time has told me, not to ask for more Someday our ocean will find its shore". Drake is more than just a hippy folk artist and the influence of jazz and blues is apparent - the fantastic "River Man", "Three Hours" and "Saturday Sun" creating moods and ideas which really touch the listener. "Way to Blue" with just voice and strings is almost a religious experience while Thoughts of Mary Jane is a light Donovan style pop song in comparison, but each show Drake's willingness to experiment with more complex instrumental arrangements and subtle rhythms. But even on the more spare arrangements, "Day is Done", "Cello Song" and "Fuit Tree", Drake never becomes self obsessed - the darkest moments are illuminated by a wisdom beyond his 20 years. "Fruit Tree" is a an exploration of fame and his own lasting legacy is surely the wonderful musical seeds he left behind in his albums. Be careful - Nick Drake is not always an easy listen - buy Eva Cassidy for that - but very few songwriters and performers have ever produced such seminal and enduring work.
on 7 April 2000
One of my first dates with my boyfriend of 7 years was to visit Nick Drake's grave - a little obscure maybe ... but the perfect resting place for this genius. His grave lies under a big knarled tree in a little graveyard in an idyllic village with the fantastic British countryside to view and recalls the haunting quality of Nick Drake's music which, once heard, will never be forgotten. The fantastic orchestration on Bryter Later makes that my particular favourite, but each album is unique - truly great guitar playing with well written lyrics; beautifully sung and Five Leaves Left is no exception. We are all familiar with The Man in a Shed, the poignancy of Fruit Tree is so sad, yet so true. And Saturday Sun will always hold strong memories for me, my boyfriend and hundreds of others, as it was chosen to play at the funeral of a friend who died in a motorcycle accident in India, aged 29. The lyrics on this track just say it all. Sad, beautiful, comic, frightening, energetic only go part way to describe the musical genius of Nick Drake. Five Leaves Left is an excellent introduction to his music.
on 27 June 2003
The late sixties and early seventies must have been quite a place. I would have loved to have visit, particular from a musical point of view, at a time when musical genius was swelling and it was actually being recognised. These days, at least in Britain, complicated music that is actually wonderful to listen to, is replaced on the radio by forced boy-bands with their over the top and fake love songs and so much shamefully simple pop. Back then it must have been great to be alive. There was 'free love' so to speak, and no-one was particularily bothered about image...and of course there was the musical genius' such as The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Beach Boys...and they were all being recognised. Wrong...
Nick Drake unfortunately died very young, but left behind three strokes of musical power that I am willing to bet good money, that we'll never hear again. The originality he put into his songs at the time must have been startling. It must have been VERY startling, because it is startling even today...and they just sound like they were written yesterday, or twenty years ago, that's how timeless Drake's music is. So I stand corrected in the fact that the title of this review is '...One Stroke Of Genius', when really it should be three. But for a debut this is truly a magical and mature experience. Combining folk, jazz and blues and making a hybrid out of them is a very difficult thing to do, but Drake pulls it of with ease. Just don't expect to be tapping your feet to any of this. This is indeed 'thoughtful' music.
Opener 'Time Has Told Me' is a lovely acoustic folk song, that is actually uplifting despite the unusual lyrics, as is 'Day is Done', ' 'Cello Song' carries on the line with adding, of course, a cello to the mix, but is actually a very mellow and almost mournful song. I read a review by a fellow reviewer saying that final track 'Saturday Sun' was played at a close friends funeral, and I must say to the person that I couldn't have chosen a better song myself. It's mellow, without being depressing, it's soothing without relaxing, and it's thoughtful without making you think too much. The only thing I am sorry for, is that it was played on such an occasion, and I'm sorry for that person's loss.
My personal favourite track, 'Way To Blue', consists of just two things. A string section and a magnificent vocal. Drake's deep, warming tones contradict the mournful string arrangements, set up by a close friend of Drake's, and leave you with an astonishing song that is sad, but won't leave you low. The great thing about Drake's music is that it is low-key music, but it won't make you feel low, unless you really are at the very bottom of all lows. And not only is this amazing, gently wilting music, it's also amazing that he was never recognised as truly as he deserved.
This is a superb and solid album by a pretty much-unheard artist that should have been classed up with some of the finest folksters that ever lived. I must also warn you....if you buy this, make sure that you're prepared with more cash in hand, because I promise you, you'll be back for his other two albums, 'Bryter Layter' and 'Pink Moon'. A fine example of late 60's/early 70's folk music. If not the greatest.