Classic Rock Review

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Nick Drake – Bryter Layter (1970)


Nick Drake was without a doubt an underestimated genius. Underestimated not by others, but by himself. He was a man of recluse and low self-confidence. He always thought he wasn�t talented musically, and it puzzles many how he could even think of himself as un-talented, nevermind actually believing it.

One would have no idea that he thought of himself like that after listening to Bryter Layter. This was probably his most orchestrated album, containing not only his soft-spoken voice, guitar and violin but also drumming, bass, piano and a brass instrument here and there (Such as the saxophone in At the Chime of a City Clock) even going so far to include a xylophone during the song Northern Sky. He definitely went all out on this album and it really shows.

Even with the use of so many wonderfully arranged instruments, it still seems simplistic enough to be a nice calming listen, but while retaining enough depth so not to come off as boring or repetitive. But when it comes down to it, what do people end up listening to? That’s right, his sweet gentleman tone of voice and his amazing finger picked guitar playing.

Songs like One of These Things First are easily a prime example of this, when ever you listen to it, you’ll initially be in awe of the majestic piano but by the end your attention always wanders back to Drake’s soothing voice and melodic guitar playing. Not only does his voice leave such as an impression, the lyrics he sings always have a very nice message.

Take Hazey Jane I for example, a song the seems like it’s about a woman so infatuated with a man that she passes by on so many other things in life she could be enjoying. But for some reason these songs never come off as being too depressing, unlike a lot of his other work. Again, this is probably contributed to the fact that the other instruments he experimented with on this album give it more of an upbeat feeling, no matter what the subject matter is.

However, these lyrics and messages are vital, mainly because one of the only let downs on the album (and it’s not really THAT big of a let down) is the title track, Bryter Layter. This instrumental track, clocking in at 3 minutes and 22 seconds sounds slightly dated and sounds like a cheesy intermission tune. Compared to the brilliant songs before and after (Hazey Jane I and Fly respectively) it comes of as being a little bit of a filler track, but it’s intended purpose was probably just for him to experiment on an instrumental song, and just try something out of the ordinary.

Even more out of the ordinary is the 6 minute song, Poor Boy. Easily one of the most epic songs in all of Nick Drake’s relatively short career it truly is a masterpiece. Using choir vocals in the chorus, and his own voice during the verses. It also features such wonderful arrangements for saxophone, piano and guitar.

Sunday is really the perfect way to close out an album, a calm flute melody played over a brilliant sounding guitar and later on, an organ. It just puts the whole album in perspective, despite it not being as powerful as the other songs on the album.

Quick Recap:
Pros- Amazing orchestration, brilliant lyeics and he has such a wonderful voice.

Cons- The instrumental tracks are nothing really to get excited about, when I listen to this album I usually skip Bryter Layter and rarely bother waiting through Sunday.

May 17, 2010 Posted by | Nick Drake Bryter Layter | | Leave a comment

Nick Drake: Bryter Layter (1970)


It’s no fluke that each individual Nick Drake album appears in Treble’s “Best of’s”; his debut in 1969, the album which this review will cover, and then his last work in 1972. Drake only made the three proper albums in his lifetime. Those who might still might not have been initiated into the cult of Drake might not know that by flipping through his section of the record store as there have since been more compilations of his work put out than his actual original creations. Relatively unknown at the time, Drake has recently seen more adulation and it grows every year. Take for instance famous fans Zach Braff, using one of the tracks from Bryter Layter, “One of These Things First,” for his film Garden State, or Wes Anderson, taking another from the same album, “Fly,” for his Royal Tenenbaums. Both of these songs were somewhat used in the stereotypical context of a Nick Drake song, as an accompaniment for depressed youth. While there certainly is that aspect to Drake’s music and life, Bryter Layter was actually a more upbeat album than his debut, Five Leaves Left, and one that found its creator stretching in various directions as an artist.

For a more contemporary analogy, Nick Drake’s jump between albums is similar to Elliott Smith’s jump from Kill Rock Stars to Dreamworks — bigger production, more instruments in the mix, all while not giving up any of the earnestness, honesty, or tenderness. Whereas Richard Thompson lent a hand to his spare and intimate debut, other Fairport Convention members, Dave Pegg and Dave Mattacks, add their help to his sophomore effort. Two songs on the album, two of the best I might add, feature the additional help of John Cale, fresh from his departure of the Velvet Underground. Bryter Layter is essentially eight stunning vocal tracks bookended by two equally astounding instrumentals. It’s hard for me to pick any one specific album to recommend to someone who has never been exposed to Nick Drake. I usually tell them to just buy the three studio albums and be done with it, but if I were forced to pick, it would be Bryter Layter, mainly because of the inclusion of specific songs and the fact that it was his most fully realized album in terms of cohesion and consistency.

The lyrics within “Hazey Jane II” resemble the feelings of another artist who had an album out in the same year, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. As Harrison’s album cover featured a verge being crowded out by towering buildings as time progressed, so too does Nick Drake say with:

And what will happen in the morning when the
World it gets so crowded that you can’t look out
The window in the morning

The growing world is june one concern for the songwriter, however, as he dwells upon city life, money, youth and, of course, love in other tracks from the album. Drake was only twenty-two at the time Bryter Layter was released. Apparently, the young man had a lot on his mind. If some of you manage to somehow get this album on vinyl, I would say to you that the highlights appear on side two. John Cale’s viola and harpsichord backup for “Fly” along with Drake’s achingly earnest lyrics, the Van Morrison-esque “Poor Boy,” complete with soulful backup singers that almost make it the Stones on Valium, and then Cale’s reappearance playing three keyboard instruments on “Northern Sky” are all stellar examples of the overwhelmingly subtle power of Nick Drake.

Drake’s third and final album, Pink Moon, clocked in at less than thirty minutes. He claimed that he just didn’t have anything left in him after that. And, as most of us in the cult of Drake know, in 1974, at the age of 26, Nick Drake left us far too early. On a label on one of the master tapes, now dutifully reprinted in the CD, is a message that says “Stereo Copy: Rough Mix- ok: Bryter Later?” To me this reveals two things. One, that this is most likely where the album name came from. Two, that no one at the time of this recording knew what was to come in four short years, otherwise that message might not have ever appeared, especially with a question mark. That’s the case for Drake. As for us, things did become brighter as more and more people became acquainted with the man’s music. Though tinged with sadness, Bryter Layter is just one of those albums that was brilliantly bittersweet to begin with, and made even more so by tragic circumstances.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Nick Drake Bryter Layter | | Leave a comment