It’s tragic when an artist only truly gets recognised after an early death. Nick Drake’s passing in 1974 robbed the world of one of it’s most distinctive singer/songwriters. Like Scott Walker, Drake had an amazing gift of being able to paint pictures with his voice. The three albums recorded during his lifetime failed to make a commercial impact, but their legacy is undeniable.
I discovered Drake via the stunning early-1990s retrospective Way to Blue. It was a beautifully curated record and one which was played constantly during my formative years and beyond. His work is infectious – None of my friends had heard of him, but all they needed to be seduced was a few bars. Every few years there’s a understandable renewed interest in his work as more and more people discover his talent.
This is a ‘new’ album of material recorded in the late ’60s and produced by Drake’s estate. Family Tree is made from homemade reel-to-reel recordings charting the pre Five Leaves Left years. Most of these tracks have been floating around on bootlegs and a few also appeared on the rarities album Time Of No Reply, but Family Tree is more of a coherent package. Drake’s family have always been pleasantly overwhelmed by his cult status, and have given many fans an opportunity to hear these tracks in the past. This compilation makes sure that the best quality recordings are in the public domain.
At first this CD might come as a shock to modern listeners. The tape recordings are understandably low-if and hissy in places, but this only serves to enhance the authenticity of these recordings. The songs are short, giving this a feel of a musical scrapbook and there are some interesting segues and diversions throughout the disc.
The disc contains a couple of embryonic Drake classics as well as songs made famous by Bob Dylan, Blind Boy Fuller and Jackson C Frank. Most surprisingly there are a couple of songs written and sung by Drake’s mother Molly giving crystal clear hints as to where Nick got his haunting vocal style. His sister Gabrielle also features on the sublime All My Trials and the family Drake also play Mozart at one stage.
Family Tree is probably not the right title for this. It should be Family Album – close your eyes and you can picture a home full of music, something which makes this a beautifully intimate and atmospheric recording. At one stage you can hear the glorious sound of teacups rattling in the background.
This album may appear scrappy at first so if you’ve never heard him before, this is probably not the place to start. Go out and buy all the other albums first. And then the very next day I promise that you’ll be buying this. It’s a lovely package, which brings us closer than before to this mysterious and enigmatic artist. The family should be proud.