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Nick Drake – Family Tree (2007)

From BBC Music

Invaluable archaeology or rampant barrell-scraping? Nick Drake’s home tapes get…

Recognition of Nick Drake’s talent was slow in coming during his brief lifetime. The three albums he recorded between 1969 and 1972 barely sold a bean, and it’s a safe bet that with his aversion to gigging and promotion, a fourth album, had it been forthcoming, would have gone the same way.

Dying young is no obstacle to a successful career and the trickle of reappraisal that began in the 70s became an unstoppable tidal wave of praise and celebrity endorsement from the 80s onwards as the world found it loved Drake after all. The ensuing clamour for yet more ‘new’ material turned up the valuable unreleased demos, Time Of No Reply, and 2003’s less than essential, Made To Love Magic.

But fans always want more as many a happy bootlegger would tell you. Nth-generation, execrable quality boots of a pre-Five Leaves Left Drake at home and in France, have been reeling punters in for many a year and it’s these original recordings that make up the bulk of Family Tree.

Happily the tapes have been resuscitated and remastered by John Wood, (engineer on all his studio albums), and though that’s good news, there’s little on this collection of interest to anyone but the most avid – sorry, make that rabid – completist.

In addition to ill-fitting covers from the Dylan, Van Ronk, and folk standards songbooks (all sung in a toe-curling American accent), there are tunes written and performed by his mother, an earnest duet with his sister, and a family rendition of a Mozart trio in which Nick plays clarinet. As might be expected from material that was never intended to be commercially available, none are noteworthy in any respect.

As for the original material upon which Drake’s reputation correctly rests, the stilted versions of “Day Is Done” and “Way To Blue” only demonstrate how crucial his friend, John Kirby’s string arrangements were in making these songs really bloom and ultimately flower.

If you don’t know Nick Drake, just buy the first three albums. If you already have them then you won’t need this bottom-of-the-barrel compendium.

May 14, 2010 Posted by | Nick Drake Family Tree | | Leave a comment

Nick Drake – Family Tree (2007)


The three albums that Nick Drake produced in his short lifetime are all near-perfect, haunting gems of beauty and brevity – but haven’t Nick Drake fans long craved an over-long album of hissy demos where Nick Drake’s Mum gets to sing?

Because, make no mistake, that’s what Family Tree is – a 23-track slog of home-recorded demos that Nick Drake doodled out before the release of his first album. Family Tree could almost be the dictionary definition of hit and miss, but for anyone who wants to listen to the gradual solidification of a rare songwriting talent, Family Tree is a fascinating, damn near essential album.

It’s a cliche to say that Nick Drake was chronically under-appreciated during his lifetime, but only because it couldn’t be truer. Between 1969 and 1972 Nick Drake released three hushed, crystalline albums to a staggeringly uncaring world. We know how the story ends – Nick Drake kills himself, only to become such an influential musician that Brad Pitt narrated a documentary about him three years go – but where does the story begin?

Thanks to Family Tree, we can see that a lot of it had to do with a year spent in Aix-En-Provence. Prior to this Nick Drake had been exploring his talents relatively slowly, but Aix-En-Provence marked an explosion in Drake’s musical development – and it’s this year, prior to the recording of Five Leaves Left, that Family Tree documents so impressively.

Heavy on covers – by obvious inspirations such as Bob Dylan and Bert Jansch – and traditional songs, Family Tree at once offers an insight about how Nick Drake found his sound and also provides fascinating little insights into the man who provokes so much fervent devotion, like the snatch of Mozart where Drake plays clarinet with his aunt and uncle or the weird Mexican impression that he uses to introduce Milk And Honey.

Obviously at 28 tracks long – and since Family Tree paints a picture of an embryonic talent – there are moments that are eminently skippable; like the spoken-word Time Piece and Poor Mum, a song by Nick Drake’s mother which shows where Nick Drake got his voice, his musicianship and possibly his all-encompassing miserablism. But, these aside, Family Tree is a treat for Nick Drake completists and the casual curious alike.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Nick Drake Family Tree | | Leave a comment

Nick Drake: Family Tree (2007)

From Uncut magazine

Listen to Nick Drake with one ear and you’ll hear a (self-)parody of the Sensitive Young Troubadour – the posh Poor Boy, long ways from his country home. There’s a peculiarly English bashfulness to Drake that suggests some coy conflation of Donovan and Colin Blunstone.

Listen with both ears and you hear the monkish beauty of that light baritone alongside its close companion – Drake’s inimitably intricate fingerpicking. Together these intertwined “voices” create a melancholic magic that sounds completely unique to this day.

Long bootlegged, these domestic performances captured at the Drake family home and during Nick’s 1967 sojourn in Aix-en-Provence give us the roots of the music on Five Leaves Left, Bryter Later and Pink Moon. In places as grainy as Dylan’s Basement Tapes, Family Tree is heavy on country- or folk-blues from the Warwickshire delta.

Tape-hissing covers of songs by luminaries like Bert Jansch and Jackson C. Frank are interspersed with treatments of traditionals (“Cocaine Blues”, “Black Mountain Blues”, “All My Trials”) – pretty much the repertoire of the workaday late ’60s jobbing folkie. Dylan (“Tomorrow Is a Long Time”) and Dave Van Ronk (“If You Leave Me”) pop up alongside Drake’s Aix mate Robin Frederick, whose previously unearthed “Been Smoking Too Long” lays bare the downside of marijuana intoxication.

A revelation the album isn’t: Family Tree presupposes or even requires a basic familiarity with the Drake oeuvre. But presuming you have at least a nodding acquaintance, the 28 tracks here are a fascinating window into a young man’s musical soul, featuring amusing asides and mistakes. Also included are two wistful pieces of Victoriana by Nick’s mother Molly, one of them a riposte of sorts to “Poor Boy” (“Poor Mum”) that could almost hail from the first Kate and Anna McGarrigle album.

Tellingly, one of the earliest Drake compositions (“They’re Leaving Me Behind”) hints at the darkness to come, with the young man’s future already looking bleak. “Bird Flew By” questions the basic fact of earthly existence. A tentative Cambridge airing of Five Leaves Left’s “Day Is Done” – with Drake breaking off to chastise himself for his sloppiness – says it all: “When the party’s through/Seems so very sad for you/Didn’t do the things you meant to do.”

Far more than a scrapbook retrieved from a dusty attic, Family Tree is essential listening for anybody in thrall to the spell of Saint Nick.

May 12, 2010 Posted by | Nick Drake Family Tree | | Leave a comment