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Album Review: Way to Blue: The Songs of Nick Drake by Various Artists
Very Good, Based on 6 Critics
AllMusic - 80 Based on rating 8/10
Edited down from performances in London, Melbourne, and New York City, the 15 tracks that populate the lovely and inspiring Way to Blue: The Songs of Nick Drake feel far more intimate than the live tag would suggest. Drake's original producer, the venerable Joe Boyd, wanted to recapture the intimacy of Drake's recordings while maintaining the late singer/songwriter's evocative spirit, so any instances of applause have been removed, resulting in a set that feels both wildly unpredictable and incredibly reverent, with highlights arriving via Vashti Bunyan's beautiful, Robert Kirby-arranged rendition of "Which Will," Lisa Hannigan's haunting and spare version of "Black Eyed Dog," and Robyn Hitchcock's kaleidoscopic retelling of Pink Moon's spooky "Parasite. " .
Various ArtistsWay to Blue-The Songs of Nick Drake(Storysound)Rating: 4 out of 5 stars Stream the album Looking for an album to blast on a beautiful spring day with the convertible top down while cruising down the highway? This ain’t it. That comes as no surprise to fans of UK folk singer/songwriter Nick Drake’s small but remarkably influential catalog of achingly lovely, hushed acoustic material. An unexpected surge in popularity after his untimely 1974 death only made his existing material resonate more powerfully as the work of a tortured, introspective depressive who seldom performed live due to psychological problems.
How do you cover an artist whose arrangements, guitar playing, and vocal style are so well ingrained into the minds of their fans, that the original performances become definitive, and to deviate from them becomes some sort of heresy. First things first, ignore those people. They’re just songs for chrissakes, not the Dead Sea Scrolls. Secondly, don’t go for all that Beatlemania, “not the real thing but an incredible simulation”, jive.
In 2010 and 2011, producer Joe Boyd spearheaded a series of live shows in tribute to Nick Drake, hand-picking performers to cover Drake’s songs. Boyd was not only a central figure in the 1960s folk revival on both sides of the Atlantic, but he produced Drake’s first two albums, Five Leaves Left in 1969 and Bryter Layter in 1970. Few knew Drake quite so well as Boyd, so few are so qualified to re-stage these songs in an affectionate tribute.
In a 1960s music scene of wannabe Byrons and Shelleys, nobody was more committed to the dream of the doomed artist than Nicholas Ridley Drake. The Cambridge University student flirted with the idea, rhymed his martyrdom (“Safe in your place deep in the earth/That's when they'll know what you were truly worth,”) and had accepted its invitation by the age of 26. A few thousand records were sold.
A prophet of tristesse, Nick Drake went unappreciated in his day. After meager record sales, he died of an apparent suicide in 1974 in his native England. His poetic folk-rock songs have been rediscovered via TV ads and soundtracks and should receive a further boost from this tribute compiled by his original producer, Joe Boyd. Drake purists might question some arrangements — Boyd sweetens certain tracks with more strings and jazz/world music flourishes by Bangladeshi pianist Zoe Rahman — but he still has Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson, who recorded with Drake.