Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Nick Drake -- Five Leaves Left
Peruse these reviews, and you can count on one hand the folk albums you see represented. Folk is not a genre that generally interests me. However, Beck, one of my favorite artists, released a borderline-folk album in 2002 that is one of my favorite albums of all time. I quickly noticed that Beck was name-dropping someone named "Nick Drake" quite a bit as a huge influence on Sea Change.
Hey, my name's sort of Nick, I thought. I'm gonna check this guy out.
Well, I checked out Nick Drake's first album, Five Leaves Left, and much to my surprise, I liked it just as much as Sea Change, which is to say, a lot.
Nick Drake was this weird, shy dude from rural England. He liked to stay indoors and do things that eventually, "eventually" in this case a stretch, led to his death at age 26. Drake released three albums, none of which found any commercial success during his lifetime. That lack of success likely further contributed to Drake's bad habits, though ironically, Drake's shyness-fueled avoidance of interviews and live performances most likely led to his lack of popularity.
I'm much an introvert myself, raised in an area as rural as Drake was, albeit my worst vice appears to be candy salad. Like most of the introverts and scattered extroverts who have latched onto this music over time, I found instant connection with Drake's work, particularly Five Leaves Left. As to why, I'll have to get metaphysical...and do a patented Nicsperiment Q&A.
Why does Drake's gentle guitar-playing not bore me like most gentle guitar-playing often does?
Something about Drake's playing is different. He much experimented with tuning and technique, and while his style is gentle, I would also call it "lively," like a bubbling brook, or wind-rustled leaves--very evocative of nature.
Why does the folk accompaniment not sound full of schmaltz and dated?
I don't know. I feel like serendipity had a hand in this. I am not high on a lot of the accompaniment on Drake's second album (an album which, predictably, Pitchfork gave a higher review to than this one), and he is unaccompanied, sans one piano line, on his third. For some reason, all of Five Leaves Left's subtle musical accompaniment given by folk bands, Fairport Convention and Pentangle, as well as the strings composed by Robert Kirby and Richard Thompson, are sublime. Every tap of the conga, shudder of violin, oaken touch of bass, and even lilt of flute are perfectly placed. If I had to articulate a reason for its success, I think Five Leaves Left's instrumentation seems to exist only to serve the song. There's no, "This album has to have strings on it because that sells"...it's "this particular song needs these particular strings on it because on this song these particular strings will sound lovely." The second quotation has more words in it, so producers often go with the first.
3. I heard Five Leaves Left first.
Obviously, this is a statement, not a question, but I don't quite feel like I can review this album next to its brethren without bias. I heard Five Leaves Left first, and I've had the more memorable adventures to it. To wit, I'll end this review by back-referencing this very blog.
2005, that year, after a summer adrift in some strange darkness, no job, no prospects, alone, I started blogging again. Around that time, I borrowed 20 bucks from my dad, and headed up to Monroe to hang out with my cousin. I stayed with her til that Sunday, then drove home. I had given serious thought to coming home Monday, but when we watched the news that morning, there was suddenly a hurricane named Katrina bearing down on us. So that afternoon, 08/28/05, with a pounding headache, I headed back South, into Katrina, to home. As part of the drive, I had to head east on I-20, then get off at a rural spot on the Mississippi River levee to head toward the gulf. The crazy thing is, as I drove through the idyllic countryside, listening to Drake, the sky couldn't have been more beautiful. But as I headed further South, it transformed so that I was driving into the jaws of hell.
Here is a video of me driving and listening to Nick Drake, as I traveled atop the Mississippi Levee Road. I took it on an ancient camera, and quality is almost unspeakably low, but you can still get my drift. Video or not, I remember it like it was yesterday.
Before that portion of the drive, I listened to Air's "Universal Traveler," and that was also pretty great (it might as well have been my theme song).
Here's the full version of the Nick Drake song from the video above. It's called "River Man," and it was not actually created in 1969, but has existed since the beginning of time. It pairs well with a drive through open country...or anywhere.
1. Time Has Told Me 4:27
2. River Man 4:21
3. Three Hours 6:16
4. Way to Blue 3:11
5. Day is Done 2:29
6. Cello Song 4:49
7. The Thoughts of Mary Jane 3:22
8. Man in a Shed 3:55
9. Fruit Tree 4:50
10. Saturday Sun 4:03