Friday, August 12, 2011

283 Five Leaves Left. Eclipsed by a Pink Moon



Album: Five Leaves Left
Artist: Nick Drake
Genre: Folk
Year: 1969

Tracks

  1. Time Has Told Me
  2. River Man
  3. Three Hours
  4. Way to Blue
  5. Day is Done
  6. Cello Song
  7. The Thoughts of Mary Jane
  8. Man in a Shed
  9. Fruit Tree
  10. Saturday Sun

A few albums back I raved about Pink Moon, the final album by Nick Drake. You can reread the review here but if you want a quick summary: I found it sad but great.

We're now many albums further on from Pink Moon and we've gone back a few years to when Drake was a promising young talent entering a studio with his debut set of songs. Expectations were high as Drake and his producer tried to turn his demo recordings into a top selling album. They failed dismally. The record was basically ignored by the music-buying public which (to be fair) had a lot on it's mind back in 1969. On the same day Five Leaves Left was released, record stores were displaying new releases from The Steve Miller Band, Vanilla Fudge, The Guess Who, The Nice and Al Stewart. All of these artists were desperately trying to compete for the few crumbs of musical attention that weren't take up by the release of Abbey Road on the same date. If your album hits stores on the same day as a new Beatles release your publicist has their work cut out for them.

Abbey Road has held it's fanbase over time but the other albums that kept Five Leaves Left off the charts have faded away while Drake's debut is held us a classic and makes so many top 100 lists I wouldn't be surprised if it started turning up in the Top 100 metal albums and even the Top 100 chocolate cake recipes, it's getting that ubiquitous.

Personally it doesn't affect me in nearly the same way that Pink Moon does, something I can attribute directly to the production. Pink Moon is Nick Drake and a guitar. Vocals, sing strings and emotion. But Five Leaves Left adds bass guitars, drums, flutes, extra guitars and even entire string ensembles to Drake's original compositions. There are several tracks in which Nick doesn't even contribute guitar and instead sings over the top of a wash of cellos, violas and violins. To my mind it ruins the whole thing. Drake's music is at it's best when it's as simple as possible- one man and his guitar. After he died the demo version of Man in a Shed was discovered and released. It's wonderful. Simple, flawless and brilliant.

Five Leaves Left is still a great listen and I'd choose it over a good chunk of the other albums on the countdown. But I can't help but wish the only sounds were Nick's voice and his guitar.

Influenced by: Bob Dylan and a youthful desire to make music heard.
Influenced: It's creator into a feeling of despair.

Highlight: Man in a Shed (the demo version)
Lowlight: Cello Song

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "We are so lucky to be alive in an age of recorded sound"

-Yes. Yes we are. It's always worth being reminded.

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