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Time is still telling for the late Nick Drake

May 4, 2013

Word of mouth, tribute singers, car and cough syrup ads, and radio and film documentaries have already combined over time to turn the late Nick Drake from unheralded 1970s voice into 21st century music lore.  Now a new CD of his songs covered by other artists and a remastered boxed vinyl of one of his few albums are set to add to the phenomenon.

Drake has been dead for nearly four decades  but the British singer-songwriter’s haunting, poetic music has never been more popular.

Joe Boyd, who produced Drake’s records, says Drake’s appeal has been a real slow burner, moving from aficionado to aficionado and even between lovers.   “People would go out together. After a few days they would play Nick Drake to their new friend, making clear ‘If you don’t get this, the relationship doesn’t go very far’,” he told me.

“It is music which was out of step with its time. As years go by, people see the richness and depth of what he was doing.”

Drake’s heyday, such as it was, was in the late ’60s and early ’70s. He made just three complete albums – “Five Leaves Left” (1969), “Bryter Layter” (1970) and “Pink Moon” (1972).   There was also a quintet of songs recorded shortly before his death from an overdose of antidepressants in 1974, aged 26.

His influence has grown, however, driven by lyrics such as  Time has told me/You came with the dawn/A soul with no footprint/A rose with no thorn/Your tears they tell me/There’s really no way/Of ending your troubles/With things you can say.

Those lyrics come from Drake’s first album. Most recently, his second “Bryter Layter” has been remastered for a vinyl box set, containing posters and other trivia.   The original master tape was unusable so a “safety” tape made by the engineer, John Wood, at the time was used instead.

Producer Boyd, meanwhile, has done his bit to drive the interest, first putting together concerts of artists singing Drake songs and now releasing a CD – “Way to Blue – The Songs of Nick Drake” – from them.

    “We tried to choose artists who don’t sound like Nick Drake,” he said.   It features folk and rock singers along the lines of Teddy Thompson, Vashti Bunyan, Green Gartside, Scott Matthews, and Danny Thompson – each giving their own twist to Drake’s work.

“It’s good music and good music is hard to find these days,” said Paris-based U.S. chanteuse Krystle Warren, who is featured twice on the CD.   Her rendition of “Time Has Told Me” is decidely more throaty and soaring than Drake’s original, which is not suprising given Warren’s roots.

“It really felt like what I grew up with – gospel music,” she said.

(This is an edited version of a story I did for my regular employer, Reuters)

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