When Joe Boyd, whose roster of artists included such stalwarts as Sandy Denny, Fairport Convention and Nick Drake, sold his Witchseason company to Island records in the 70’s he did it on the proviso that they would ensure that Nick Drake never went out of print, which was a risky strategy as the artist never sold many records in his lifetime, and after his death was destined to drift into obscurity, and would probably have done so if it wasn’t for Joe Boyd and his foresight. Throughout the subsequent years Island records stayed true to their word, re-issuing his albums regularly ensuring there was always product on their books and in the shops, and little by little word spread around about this extraordinary artist with these fragile and hauntingly beautiful songs, whispered from a troubled heart, subtle yet heart-achingly epic. No surprise then that eventually the world began to wake up to this beauty and regard him as the genius that he undoubtedly was. By way of acknowledgement the artists involved in this compilation, and the label Chrysalis have provided us with an array of takes and impressions of his music. These are no straight covers, instead offering us an impressionistic smorgasboard. I recently saw the great Steve Harley playing an acoustic show with his band, where he explained that for his recent album “Uncovered”, he didn’t want the songs to be mere covers, he wanted them to sound like he wrote them – interpretations rather than cover versions (check out his take on Bowie‘s “Absolute Beginners” as an example).
You may have already heard Fontaines DC doing “Cello Song”, as it was played to death on Radio 6 as a forerunner to this release. A most intriguing interpretation, like an awake dream, it stretches a paprika landscape as if seen through silky veils, like driving through a valley at dusk, and hearing strange voices beckon you into their world. Camille proves on “Hazey Jane II” that you can indeed channel a French chanteuse vibe and get away with it! Guy Garvey was always going to do well when tackling an artist like Nick Drake, and together with Mike Lindsay from Tunng, they have really captured a fleeting rainy nostalgia on “Saturday Sun”, Guy bringing his pleasant humanity to the song, lazy and gently lifting like a wispy cloud. Everyone here seems to be subtle takes, handling the material carefully so as not to interrupt the sorrow (don’t know why I keep quoting Joni Mitchell in this review!). I mean I’m not really bothered about some of the artists here but they do surprise me. I mean I wouldn’t buy anything by Bombay Bicycle Club or Let’s Eat Grandma, however here they delight me with the gently falling cadences of “Road” and the sweet dreamy drones and plodding goth bass of “From The Morning”. Even David Gray, who presents us with a glitchy vulnerable “Place To Be”, which reminds me a little of Modern Nature, who would have been perfect for this compilation.
Elsewhere John Parrish and Aldous Harding drone their way through “Three Hours”, Stick In The Wheel auto-tune their drones on “Parasite”, and Ben Harper sticks pretty close to the original, Liz Phair and Emeli Sandé pop it up a bit, Philip Selway and Feist tone it down and most surprisingly of all John Grant takes the song “Day Is Done”, which is just about the most John Grant of all Nick Drakes’s songs with its Colla Voce epic Strings, and turns it on its head, opting instead for a fully “digital” rendition, dark pads and Mozart Moogs replacing the lush strings, but still so full of broken hearts and a bath of stars of sublime parts. Obviously if you don’t own any Nick Drake albums then go and buy them all and you won’t be disappointed, and I’m pretty sure every artist on this record would agree with me. However this would not only make a good entry into his world but stands as a pretty decent companion piece.
Can be ordered in multiple variants through Chrysalis Records and is also available to stream from the usual places.
Review by Andrew Wood