Monday, 15 April 2013

Way To Blue: The Songs Of Nick Drake

Live tribute album from a series of legacy concerts, curated by Drake's producer Joe Boyd. Features Vashti Bunyan, Robyn Hitchcock, Danny Thompson and more!

Tribute albums are quite often hit and miss affairs. The temptation for artists to make something new of a nigh-perfect back catalogue can occasionally result in startling re-interpretations. More often than not the results can do neither the original artist or the re-interpreting one any favours. Taking too much artistic license with tempo, mood, lyrics, or covering a song ironically being the worst crimes.

Thankfully there's no such heinous sins committed here. Way To Blue (The Songs Of Nick Drake) benefits from being put together with care and taste by Drake's producer Joe Boyd. Rather than giving each artist a song and letting them get on with it, this album benefits from being a live album. It's the culmination of a series of concerts that Boyd has staged globally over the last few years, the recordings here being edited highlights from nights in Melbourne and London.

By using a core group of musicians sympathetic to the nuances and valence of Drake's songs, along with vocalists that don't copy Drake's singing, the results show just what a fine songwriter Drake was. It's previously been difficult to imagine anyone tackling this songbook with any authority, such was Drake's ability as a performer of his own material. Somehow through Boyd and his carefully chosen team of musicians they've cracked it.

With the tempos largely unchanged and arrangements by both Drake's friend and arranger Robert Kirby, and the legendary cor anglais player Kate St. John, the cream of Drake's catalogue is both respectful towards the original versions as well as highlighting new possibilities. For songs thought of as quintessentially English, the re-interpretations surprisingly lend themselves to hints of Americana. Take for instance the gospel flavour of Krystle Warren's take on Time Has Told Me. Or the sad pedal steel and harmonica embellishments on Scott Matthews' impassioned version of Place To Be.

Scritti Politti's Green Gartside delivers a poignant version of Fruit Tree. Robyn Hitchcock proves himself again to be a skillful interpreter with his softly almost psych take on Parasite. Lulac's Zoe Rendell is one of the major revelations with her icy Things Behind The Sun. Drake's contemporary Vashti Bunyan adds her distinctive hushed vocals to a baroque version of Which Will, with strings and harmonium taking the place of Drake's intricate guitar. Underpinning many of the tracks is the familiar double bass of Danny Thompson who played on Drake's original recordings. On the instrumental version of One Of These Things First, Thompson really gets to shine, cementing his reputation as one of the finest musicians this country has produced.

On a personal note it would have been delightful if this album had included a version of Northern Sky, it being my favourite Nick Drake song. But there again there's always the hope of it appearing on a volume two. Until then this will do nicely. An album that's worth your money and then some.