KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Satur-debut – NICK DRAKE “FIVE LEAVES LEFT”

In February 2012 I took a break from my usual multi-part series on particular artists to focus a single post on the brief but brilliant career of one-time cult-hero Nick Drake. By the late-’90s, thanks to a popular Volkswagen television advertisement that featured his song “Pink Moon,” Drake had finally cracked into the mainstream 25 years after his death at the age of 26. Seeing him achieve notoriety after all that time was a wonderful feeling, and it’s nice to know that future generations of songwriters will continue to be influenced by his one-of-a-kind music. He only released three albums during his lifetime, all of them essential listening, but his 1969 debut Five Leaves Left is probably my favorite.

For more information on this series, please read the opening paragraph of the first post, which featured the debut album from Led Zeppelin.

 

From NICK DRAKE – 3 Hours / A Brief And Brilliant Career:

His debut album, Five Leaves Left, is a nearly perfect collection, especially remarkable considering he was only 21 when it was recorded. I love the way his voice comes seemingly out of nowhere, in the middle of his guitar pattern, on album opener “Time Has Told Me.” This is something he does on many of his songs, giving them an airy, ethereal quality. Also featuring Fairport Convention’s Richard Thompson on twangy lead guitar, this song has mature lyrics for such a young writer (“Time has told me not to ask for more, for someday our ocean will find its shore”). “River Man” features Drake on guitar and vocal, accompanied by a string arrangement (from his school friend, Robert Kirby), which becomes a featured soloist. This song has some dark lyrics (“Going to see the river man, going to tell him all I can about the ban on feeling free”), where it seems he wants to flow freely down life’s river but is unable to do so. The previously mentioned “Three Hours” is a classic. It reminds me of Bob Dylan’s longer tracks, with multiple stanzas of music instead of verses & choruses, and I love how the tempo slows down during the instrumental sections. Kirby provides another beautiful string arrangement on “Way To Blue,” which is the only musical accompaniment (no guitar). Is this some kind of prayer to a higher power (“Tell me all you may know, show me what you have to show”)? His voice gets extra deep, mimicking a cello, at the words “know” and “show.” “Day Is Done” is a maudlin tune, reminding me of Pink Floyd’s “Time” (which wouldn’t be written for another few years), and featuring some deep lyrics (for such a young man) about time running out: “When the party’s through, seems so very sad for you; Didn’t do the things you meant to do, now there’s no time to start anew, now the party’s through.”

His smooth vocals on “Cello Song” sound as though he’s soothing someone who’s dying, letting her know he’s watching over her, yet it’s surprisingly cheerful. There’s a great plucked guitar pattern, and the bass & conga arrangement are similar to “Three Hours,” but the haunting cello melody really carries this song. “The Thoughts Of Mary Jane” is pastoral sounding, almost wistful, and it’s the first time the album truly breathes, like a pleasant sigh. “Man In A Shed” has a nice, bouncy piano melody, but it’s probably the weakest song here, both lyrically & melodically. “Fruit Tree” is deep & prophetic, about the fame he craved which sadly eluded him in his lifetime (“Safe in your place deep in the earth, that’s when they’ll know what you were really worth”). The arrangement is beautiful (especially the woodwinds), and I love the vocal melody at “It can never flourish ‘til its stalk is in the ground.” The album ends with the slow, jazzy “Saturday Sun,” which is like the downbeat cousin of the old standard, “That Lucky Old Sun,” about the sad passing of time. Although on the surface the album might sound like a downer, there’s something about his voice and the instrumental performances that make it much more enjoyable than it seems.

 

For you Nick Drake fans out there, do you prefer this album over his others, or did one of those make a bigger impact on you? Perhaps you just own a compilation and that’s enough? I would love to hear from you.

Advertisements

16 comments on “Satur-debut – NICK DRAKE “FIVE LEAVES LEFT”

  1. Aphoristical
    March 30, 2019

    I like Bryter Layter best, but if you’re a fan there’s no reason not to get all three…

    Like

    • I agree that all three are essential. Here’s what I wrote to wrap up my appraisal on Bryter Layter: “I know that many fans consider this album his finest hour, and although it’s hard to argue that, song-for-song I don’t think it’s quite at the level of Five Leaves Left.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Aphoristical
        March 31, 2019

        I don’t really enjoy ‘Poor Boy’ much, but there are a lot of magical moments on Bryter Layter. I really like John Cale’s contributions on ‘Northern Sky’ and ‘Fly’.

        Like

      • I also love Cale’s contributions, especially on “Northern Sky.” As for “Fly,” in my original post I wrote that it’s “a nice song but the melody never grabbed me.” I really enjoy “Poor Boy, so I guess we get slightly different things from his music.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aphoristical
        March 31, 2019

        I feel like ‘Poor Boy’ destroys the atmosphere a bit – the backing vocals feel intrusive and it kind of kills the spell of mystic jazzy folk guy. Do you like John Martyn – sometimes he’s in similar territory to Drake.

        Like

      • I understand what you mean about songs that can destroy the atmosphere of an album, but “Poor Boy” didn’t have that effect on me. I feel like it was a much-needed breath of fresh air. I am a big John Martyn fan. Came to his music relatively late, maybe 10-12 years ago, but made up for lost time. One of the most prized possessions in my collection is the 18-CD “Island Years” box set. Not that I ever plan on selling it, but I got it for a reasonable price when it was released in 2013 and it has soared in value since then. So much exquisite music in his discography, and of course the Island years were only the beginning.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aphoristical
        April 2, 2019

        I only really know the stuff through to 1981’s Glorious Fool – any recommendations past then?

        Like

      • I’m far from an expert on Martyn’s catalog and it’s been a few years since I played any of the post-Island albums, but I do remember really liking The Apprentice and The Church With One Bell. Those seem like two good records for you to check out. Please let me know your thoughts if you ever give them a listen. Thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. christiansmusicmusings
    March 30, 2019

    I had never heard of Nick Drake, but this music surely grabs me.

    Apple Music says his airy voice is reminiscent to Donavan, which I think is a good comparison, though his lyrics seem to be darker. So sad his life was cut short.

    Like

    • That’s what his music does. It grabs you and doesn’t let go. All it took was hearing one song on a compilation and I had to hear more. Hopefully it does the same for you, and fortunately his discography is brief so it’s easy to hear it all again and again. The Donovan comparison is fair but there’s really no one else who sounds like Nick Drake. It’s the combination of his voice and unique songwriting style.

      Like

  3. Bill Van Orden
    March 31, 2019

    I don’t know what earth I’ve been on…but this guy seems to be a time traveling soul with Donovan’s voice, and the musicianship of several folk bands….a guy time traveling to every cool coffeehouse in the nation…. I’m gonna need to listen to some mo’. Never heard of him until NOW, Rich….. thank you for opening a door.

    Like

    • Hey Bill. Glad I could help you make a wonderful new discovery. As others have told me, once you hear Nick Drake’s music you tend to want to hear more of it. That’s what happened to me and I hope it happens to you too. I can understand the Donovan comparison, maybe because of their vocals, but I never made a connection between the two of them before. I’ll have to consider it the next time I play some Donovan.

      Like

  4. wardo68
    March 31, 2019

    I love all three, but Five Leaves Left is still my favorite.
    https://everybodysdummy.blogspot.com/2008/04/nick-drake-1-five-leaves-left.html

    wardo

    Like

    • Thanks, Ward. Nice to hear we agree about this album. Seems like many people prefer Bryter Layter but I think this one is the strongest collection of songs among his three albums. Loved your review and I certainly agree with your closing line: “It is a nearly perfect album.”

      Like

  5. Alyson
    April 3, 2019

    Since I’ve been writing about all the full moons in our skies of late, and the names they were given, it was inevitable I would include Nick Drake’s Pink Moon at the time of April’s Pink Moon. To be honest it was the first time I really had to delve into the back story to Nick Drake and his three albums, but what a sad tale, and such a waste of a great talent. I don’t really do albums as you know but if I ever start collecting vinyl again, these three would definitely be up there on the wish list.

    By the way, his sister Gabrielle appeared on many top British telly shows over the years, and is a fine actress. Not sure if you would know of her over the pond.

    Like

    • Drake’s tale is certainly a sad one. I’d like to think he’s somewhere on the other side enjoying the posthumous notoriety he’s received. I had no idea his sister was a well-known actress, so thanks for that wonderful bit of trivia.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to KamerTunesBlog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 364 other followers

Archives

%d bloggers like this: