Nick Drake is perhaps the foremost musical touchstone when we want to assess/comment on any other male acoustic performer singing and playing in a gentle folk manner. Jeff Buckley is the other, but that is more refined to anyone venturing to the falsetto in their repertoire. Drake’s significant legacy is built on his core three albums Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter and Pink Moon, all finding little popular success in his lifetime – recorded and released between 1969 – 1972, but gaining in legendary status over the years since his untimely death from a drugs overdose [intention unknown] in 1974. His many memorable songs form the foundation of that status, but the mystique surrounding his death and insular, withdrawn persona has inevitably contributed to it.
This tribute album was recorded live over three separate performances – two in Melbourne in 2011 and one in London in 2010 – and the range of superb artists coupled with Drake’s by now genuinely iconic tunes is a classic recipe for success. The original orchestration of Robert Kirby provides both an authenticity and expansive symphonic resonance to many of the numbers, and the removal of applause – apart from the final track where it is left to represent the all – provides an unobtrusive quality to the whole listening experience. Musical direction is by Kate St John, who apparently died recently, and the great bassist Danny Thompson who originally played on Drake’s albums is an underpinning performer, duetting with pianist Zoe Rahman on the instrumental cover One Of These Things First.
Virtually every track is a ‘success’, and favourites are probably as much to do with a personal preference for an artist as much as the song/interpretation itself. Therefore, two of my favourites are performed by Teddy Thompson, his solo cover of River Man – brilliant – and then his duet with fine American vocalist Krystle Warren on closing track and Drake’s memorable song Pink Moon. Other beautiful versions are, for example, the opening Things Behind the Sun by Lulac, who I do not know as an artist so it is very much the beauty of the song itself and the lush orchestration that appeals; Scott Matthews on two songs Place To Be and the lovely When The Day Is Done; Vashti Bunyan on Which Will; Shane Nicholson on Rider On The Wheel, and Luluc again on Fly – her vocal wonderfully redolent of the 60s/70s folk voice.
Neither here nor there, but I do not like Lisa Hannigan’s version of Black-Eyed Dog, her overwrought warble presenting a tension that seems anathema to Drake’s music. She murdered her cover of John Martyn’s Couldn’t Love You More on his tribute album Johnny Boy Wouldn’t Love This..., an observation I made in a review of that album and which drew a caustic defence of her from a reader [but not on this blog]. It’s just opinion, and the bearing is it is the only relatively weak cover on this superb album. Indeed, her duet with Lulac on Saturday Sun is less intense and works well enough, with pretty harmonising.