Various Artists – Joe Boyd presents Way to Blue: The Legacy of Nick Drake (Navigator Records)
CD / DL
Since his death in 1974 singer/songwriter Nick Drake’s talent has continued to gain acclaim and a loyal audience. Here, his producer Joe Boyd, brings together a number of artists on an album of covers to celebrate Drake’s legacy.
In 2008, a celebration of the music of Nick Drake by Producer Joe Boyd who worked on two of Drake’s albums was organised with a string of concerts in America, Australia and the UK. Together with an incredible selection of folk and acoustic artists, Boyd has compiled this covers album with some of the best performances from London and Melbourne. Given Drake’s ever growing cult popularity since his untimely suicide, it seems this is a very fitting tribute to a shy but bold artist whose love and passion for songwriting never ceased in amazing his fans.
Opening track, Things Behind The Sun performed by Zoe Randell of Melbourne duo Luluc is a very authentic take, playing on the melancholy of the original. Randell’s vocal register reminds me of Nico, avoiding over accentuation and accompanied by a spanish guitar and subtle orchestration, the interpretation feels natural and soothing.
Scott Matthews’ masterful version of Place To Be with its empyrean slide guitar from Leo Abrahams and Matthews’ blues harmonica takes the song as near to a delta as its ever going to get.
Fruit Tree by Green Garside of Scritti Politti fame is delivered plaintively and is as moving and prophetic as the original was.
Australian singer-songwriter, Shane Nicholson’s upbeat version of Poor Boy takes on a jazzy vibe lifted by classically trained jazz pianist Zoe Rhaman’s fretwork.
Neil MacColl’s guitar comes as close as you can to Drake’s twisted melodies. Krystle Warren’s soulful redition of Time Has Told Me is utterly spellbinding with its gospel leanings.
Robyn Hitchcock’s psychedelic version of Parasite is hypnotic and with Danny Thompson’s Double Bass winding and fluctuating underneath, we hear the true quality of musicianship here. The instrumental version of One of These Things First, performed by Thompson and Rhaman, again goes to show their utter professionalism and ability to make this version sing even though there are no vocals present.
Vashti Bunyan’s delicate rendition of Which Will lies in contrast to Lisa Harrigan’s Black Eyed Dog which is performed as if a primal rite, twisting and turning whilst arms outstretched to the sky.
Shane Nicholson’s stripped down, Rider On The Wheel and Teddy Thompson’s River Man come close to the original sound of Drake. Teddy’s vocals really capture the timbre of Drake’s original and the sublime cellos and violins send the listener soaring.
There are some great collaborations here too, Luluc and Lisa Harrigan’s Saturday Sun. The verses are sung individually then during the end their harmonies are delightful. Teddy Thompson and Krystle Warren’s Pink Moon is beautifully playful and uplifting and as a final track on the album fully realises what is considered Drake’s best work.
Best track goes to Scott Matthews with his haunting version of When The Day Is Done where he proceeds to sing with such down to earth delicacy matched only by his exquisite guitar-playing teasing each drop of lamentation from the tones and melody.
Joe Boyd has managed to create a unique collaboration of exceptional artists and musicians of such a high order for these concerts and this album perfectly captures the uniqueness and quality of the material all have to work with. The beauty of Nick Drake’s music is never lost here, in fact it is heightened and dealt with such care and reverence by Boyd that this work shouldn’t be considered derivative but an addition to a man’s work cut short.
All words by Philip Allen. You can read more from him in his author archive.