Poor Boy: Songs of Nick Drake
Although he only recorded 3 albums in a too-brief musical career, British folkie Nick Drake casts an increasingly long shadow. From car commercials to feature films, his subtle, mysterious music seems to be everywhere. So a tribute record would seem to be in order, if not overdue. And for the most part Poor Boy works rather well, with only one notable exception.
Drake’s music was built around his fragile voice and artfully picked guitar. He used odd tunings and chords, which have befuddled guitarists ever since, and his voice, a pale whisper of sound, screamed emotion. There are seemingly only two ways to play a Nick Drake song: as he did, which the majority of artists on this CD have done, sticking to the familiar melodies and chord structures he favored, or ignore his version completely, using only the words recast in a different setting. Of the former, Bill Horist and Aiko Shimada do a fine job with “Cello Song.” The rest of the disc features artists using Drake’s material only as a starting point. For example, “One of These Things First” by Chris Gestrin and Simon Fisk bares scant resemblance to the original, becoming a vehicle for an extended jazz piano workout. Nice, but not Nick. Still, this fares better than “For Nick/Horn/Know,” which is a wretched jazz-skrunk freakout that evokes nothing of Drake at all. But for moments such as that, simply hit skip and enjoy the Nina Simone-ish take on “Poor Boy” by Kate Hammett-Vaughan, or “Fly” by Mike Dumovich, which helps show the path that leads from Nick Drake to such contemporaries as Elliott Smith or The Shins.
The music of Nick Drake is a unique, personal form of art. He died wondering if he touched anyone at all, and probably never got an answer to that question. For the 14 tracks represented here, the answer would be a resounding “yes.”
Songlines Recordings: www.songlines.com