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_79248536_bigbryterlayterAcross three years and three albums, Nick Drake produced singular, autumnal music that in its vision and genius defies era and genre. An extraordinary guitarist, lyricist, and gifted writer of melody, Drake was a lone wolf, debilitatingly shy, and thus his records were midwifed, by producer Joe Boyd — to this day Drake’s champion — and arranger Robert Kirby, along with various luminaries from the British folk rock/jazz scene. Richard Thompson, one of the players, estimates Drake probably sold only 5,000 albums in total when they first appeared, and it would take a VW ad a generation after his death to bring his music to a wider audience, but Nick Drake’s discography carries a timeless beauty, the light of late fall, and I hear in it the expressiveness — pain, humor, love — of Van Morrison and the soft, breathy sway of Joao Gilberto. “Northern Sky” from Bryter Layter is to my mind a perfect song of deep love and yearning, informed by the sensitive playing of John Cale, Dave Pegg, and Mike Kowalski. It wasn’t the breakthrough Drake expected (Island Records declined to release it as a single), and, perhaps disillusioned by his own overt attempt at and ultimate failure to make a commercial record, it’s believed to be one of the reasons he stripped down his sound for Pink Moon. And yet “Northern Sky’s” shimmering, jazz-inflected pronouncement, “I never felt magic crazy as this,” and its bell-like arrangement, is as fitting and whole a description of Nick Drake’s music as any I can imagine.

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