By Joseph Kyle
It was a simple statement, made on a friend’s Facebook status. “I never got what the big deal is about Nick Drake.” One respondent — and this woman was partially responsible for the Nick Drake resurgence in the 90s — said, “If you never got the big deal, you need to try again”. Thanks to continued unemployment and an arrogant sense of self, I felt this to be a challenge, and considering the rainy, miserable Monday morning I’m facing, I decided … OK, Gail, I’ll accept the challenge. So, feathers ruffled, and feeling somewhat contrary, I *ahem* downloaded (for informational/instructional purposes only, kid) his three albums, put ‘em in iTunes, and prepared to try again.
I was no stranger to the music of Nick Drake. Back in the 90s, I had Way To Blue, but I found is sublime beauty to be…well…it made me want to listen to Belle And Sebastian. Introduction to his music came either from a mix-tape, or Sebadoh’s cover of ‘Pink Moon’ on Smash Your Head On The Punk Rock. The compilation was nice, but, in all honesty, it suffered from one problem: I couldn’t listen to it without falling asleep. When you’re listening to ambient music, this isn’t a bad quality, but falling asleep to a troubadour telling tales? This is a cause for concern.
Five Leaves Left. Guess what? I now understand why people dig Belle And Sebastian. I also love the tasteful, pretty strings found on ‘Way To Blue’ and though I liked ‘Cello Song’ when I first heard it on the compilation. Cello song, cello song, cello song … what a song! I hoped a moment would leap out and demand that I listen to it again and again … and this was that moment. The strings — which remind me of latter-day Nick Cave — accentuate a tempo that’s not too fast, but not too slow. His guitar picking is also superb, also highlighting an influence on Elliott Smith. I listened to this song at least three times — once on open computer, twice on headphones. It drew me in, but I had to move on. I made a decision not to let this trap me; I wanted to listen to the records as a whole.
Too bad the next song had a damn flute on it. As pretty as it may be, it was the first — and only — song on the album that I skipped. I just couldn’t listen to that crap. Besides, it led me to another instantly loved song, ‘Man In A Shed’. I love its small-jazz arrangement, the standup bass is tasteful, and it has a soulful quality that stuck to my heart almost instantly, and the same can be said of ‘Saturday Sun’. Its hymnal-like soul drew me in, and it, too, made me want to hit repeat, but there’s something about it that seemed to borrow a bit from Fred Neil’s ‘Dolphins’.
A cup of coffee is needed, a break is taken, and reflection is made. OK, that wasn’t a bad record, but I haven’t yet felt that Drake is at a point where he earns his mystical halo. As far as debuts go, it’s pretty auspicious. There are some good songs, there are two that I really like, there’s one that I love — and there are a few clunkers. Five Leaves Left; it’s not an offensive record, but I’ve got some Donovan records that sound like this and impress me more.