Invaluable archaeology or rampant barrell-scraping? Nick Drake's home tapes get...
Sid Smith 2007
Recognition of Nick Drake’s talent was slow in coming during his brief lifetime. The three albums he recorded between 1969 and 1972 barely sold a bean, and it’s a safe bet that with his aversion to gigging and promotion, a fourth album, had it been forthcoming, would have gone the same way.
Dying young is no obstacle to a successful career and the trickle of reappraisal that began in the 70s became an unstoppable tidal wave of praise and celebrity endorsement from the 80s onwards as the world found it loved Drake after all. The ensuing clamour for yet more 'new' material turned up the valuable unreleased demos, Time Of No Reply, and 2003’s less than essential, Made To Love Magic.
But fans always want more as many a happy bootlegger would tell you. Nth-generation, execrable quality boots of a pre-Five Leaves Left Drake at home and in France, have been reeling punters in for many a year and it’s these original recordings that make up the bulk of Family Tree.
Happily the tapes have been resuscitated and remastered by John Wood, (engineer on all his studio albums), and though that’s good news, there’s little on this collection of interest to anyone but the most avid - sorry, make that rabid - completist.
In addition to ill-fitting covers from the Dylan, Van Ronk, and folk standards songbooks (all sung in a toe-curling American accent), there are tunes written and performed by his mother, an earnest duet with his sister, and a family rendition of a Mozart trio in which Nick plays clarinet. As might be expected from material that was never intended to be commercially available, none are noteworthy in any respect.
As for the original material upon which Drake’s reputation correctly rests, the stilted versions of “Day Is Done” and “Way To Blue” only demonstrate how crucial his friend, John Kirby’s string arrangements were in making these songs really bloom and ultimately flower.
If you don’t know Nick Drake, just buy the first three albums. If you already have them then you won’t need this bottom-of-the-barrel compendium.