Nick Drake: Family Tree (Island/Universal)

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Nick Drake: Been Smoking Too Long
Nick Drake: Family Tree (Island/Universal)

There is a very good case to be made that Nick Drake (1948-74) was like a Robert Johnson of British folk, leaving behind a small but compelling body of songs, and few clues to the nature of his inner life.

Described by many as a man of few words, and unknowable by others, Drake was only mildly ambitious (in a careerist sense) and his music wasn't in the pure folk tradition. Yet nor was it created for a pop audience of the day.

Tragically the sensitive and secretive Drake slipped quickly into an emotional decline through marijuana, pills and into heroin. He became a depressive, withdrawn,and was understandably disappointed that his three albums (in less than three years) were received with only mild praise and few sales.

But his legacy has been enormous and his quiet, intense style has been hailed for its emotional directness, poeticism and almost Romantic mysticism. The man himself however remains elusive.

This collection of home recordings -- some made while at university in France before he returned to London and starting his career -- shed only a little more light, but everywhere you can hear a distinctive artist. And some welcome chuckles.

He remakes some traditional songs, deftly reconfigures Dylan's Tomorrow is a Long Time for his finger-picking style, and the originals are sketches of the greatness to come. There are also tracks where his mother sings or he sings with his sister, and a Mozart trio with Drake on clarinet, which put his musical life into a wider context.

Drake aficionados -- and they are growing in number every year -- will delight in hearing his voice again, and in the informal nature of these recordings, just put to tape in flats.

At 27 tracks -- and with a booklet like a family album which includes an essay by his sister Gabrielle who has overseen his legacy, and other recollections by those who knew him -- this is a welcome document of an artist in the process of finding his voice.

Not the best place to start if Drake is new to you -- Pink Moon would be a more sensible choice -- but a fine album nonetheless. And essential for "Drakeophiles".

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