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CD Review - Nick Drake


by John Parks

Originally released in 1970, Nick Drake's Bryter Layter constitutes one third of the recent reissue of his back catalogue. This trio has been re-packaged, digitally re-mastered, and enhanced with lyrics and additional photos. Drake died in 1974 at the age of 26 with much speculation over the possible cause (suicide or an accidental overdose on prescription drugs?). His short life and music have been highly influential on the sensitive and the melancholy. Listen to Stuart Murdoch of current darling Belle and Sebastian to hear a strong Drakian influence in both voice and stance.

Bryter Layter is a collection of 10 songs that showcases strong songwriting and impressive arrangements. Drake's voice is languid, haunting, confident and wise. His darkly romantic imagery paints pictures of English weather and longing. Much has been made of Drake's depression (yes, the isolation is easy to pick up), but one ends this record with a sense of beauty and optimism. The musical backdrop is a mesh of Drake's acoustic guitar, along with jazzy piano and drums, saxophone and other accompaniment. John Cale appears on viola, harpsichord and piano.

Drake's contemporaries like Donovan and Van Morrison went on to enjoy long careers. One cannot help but wonder what he would have been capable of creating if his life had not ended so abruptly. Bryter Layter is a gem which asks deep questions, searches for meaning and basks in its youthful beauty, much like the work of John Keats. On "Northern Sky," Drake probes, "Would you love me through the winter/Would you love me 'til I'm dead/Oh, if you would and you could/Come blow your horn on high."

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