Nick Drake was one of those rare artists who had great talents, but too little time on this earth. When he died in his mid-twenties in 1974, Drake left behind only three albums of poignant folk pop. Three albums, and a demo/B-side collection -- sadly, that was all he created.
"Fruit Tree" collects all four albums together, in the order they were released: The first is his enchanting debut "Five Leaves Left," a wistful and startlingly polished first album. "Five Leaves First" is followed by the masterful, brooding "Bryter Layter," which many consider to be his best work of all.
His swan song was the beautiful, tormented "Pink Moon," which hints at Drake's inner turmoil, but not in a raw or obvious way. Coming after that was "Time of No Reply," a solid collection of non-album tracks. Admittedly, it's a bit of an anticlimax after the veiled emotion of "Pink Moon," but still extremely good.
It's a rare thing when am artist's entire discography is made up of beautiful songwriting and equally exquisite music. There is literally not a single bad song on the entire collection -- the worst songs on it can simply be said to be pretty good, but never bad. That in itself is a rarity.
Drake's music is of a nearly-uniform mood -- wistful, brooding, soft and melodic. Normally a repeating theme is a bad thing, but Drake managed to keep it always interesting. He has a few catchier songs, a few bland-ish ones, and a few hopeful ones. But the overall sound is of a young man with romantic sensibilities, who was also sad and fragile.
But despite his loneliness, Drake had immense writing ability. His songwriting has a simple eloquence, with poetic overtones. He also was a pioneer of the "folk pop" sound, mixing his finger-picking guitar style with viola, strings, piano, and other such instruments. It adds extra beauty -- and often ethereality -- to the grounded guitar.
Nick Drake left behind only a few albums, but "Fruit Tree" allows you to hear them all together. Exquisite, understated, and truly timeless.
on April 23, 2004
a CLIFFORD HODGE review
When you look at the group of the immensely-talented who died young - Nick Drake, Buddy Holly, Tim Buckley, Phil Ochs, Bobby Fuller - to mention a few, you must lament the music we have are missing. Here is another example of the fact that the post-rock era has produced artists. Nick Drake, a sort of British Tim Buckley, with a dash of the later, apartment tapes-era Buddy Holly thrown in, had a genius for dark, introspective melody, recording with polished studio arrangements, often employing strings, piano, or sax to produce a highly sophisti-
cated sound. You know this is a product of its time when you look at some of the titles: "The Thoughts of Mary Jane", "Hazey Jane", "Been Smoking Too Long". But you don't find stupid drug anthems, just tight well-crafted songs which belie Drake's youth, sung in the smooth voice that was distinctive without seeming odd; interesting without drawing undue attention to itself. The vinyl box was like the CD set, containing the a 4th disc, "Time Of No Reply," consisting of the usual box set tease: new tracks. I had to have it. You do too. Yes, this is a large compilation, but "Heaven In A Wild Flower", the superb single disc collection, is not going to be easy to find, and for all I know may not have been made available as a CD. This music is beautiful. Buy it and listen during those reflective times when you need a spiritual salve.
NOTE:If you can't afford this but want a best-of Nick Drake, look for a used "Heaven In A Wild Flower" single disc compilation. All 14 tracks are good.
on November 9, 2002
This boxed set is as good as it gets. There is really nothing more to say because there is no way to truly describe this music. This music is haunting, it is beautiful, it is autumnal, it is sad, it is melodic. It is also the best secret in music. If you think you know what's good and you haven't heard this, then listen up. This is not played on the radio and his cult following is not broad enough. If you like Pet Sounds, Rubber Soul, REM, Belle and Sebastian, Forever Changes, you'll like this.
Nearly every song will stay in your head for weeks, and you will not stop playing this. Drake is English and he played beautiful folk guitar. His voice compliments the guitar playing, some of the most intricate I have ever heard. Unfortunately, Drake died in 1974 at the age of 26, and the music reflects his depressed state. But this music should be celebrated. If you are looking to save money, you can get Way to Blue, a "best of" album. But, really, that's just a waste of money, because in no time you will just pay out the cash for this boxed set.
on October 26, 2002
Fruit Tree tells the sonic tale of a hugely talented, sensitive musician, from his days as a wide-eyed hopeful/student making his way into the folk club circuit, to the fallen son who fell prey to that most common of artistic predators, depression. From the country to the city, from hope to despair and dreams and days, to shadows and light, you will find it all here. And all in his own words.
The box set includes all three albums released during Nick Drake's lifetime, and the fourth, a posthumous effort, Time of No Reply. All four cds are excellent, with their own nuances and flavor, and luckily, if you buy the box set, you won't have to face the difficult task of choosing a favorite.
This music is beyond beautiful. As others have said, it is ethereal, haunting, touching, priceless. Art on the scale of Van Gogh or William Blake. Timeless and comfortable, modern and jarring. A handful of contradictions, a million grains of sand. In short, genius.
Nick Drake's first album, Five Leaves Left, was released in 1969. In a chilling coincidence, in November 1974, five years after this album was released, he would, at age 26, leave this earth. 5LL is a classically-infused album, with a sleepy and melodic feel. It includes the classic "Time Has Told Me," the brilliant and wispy "Cello Song," the playful "Thoughts of Mary Jane," the incredible/heavy and foreboding "Fruit Tree" (surely this song has at least some part to play in the growing cult following of Drake.. it is eerie to hear him sing so clearly about post-humous fame), and the gorgeous, piano-infused "Saturday Sun."
Bryter Layter (released in 1970), was composed and recorded in London. During the making of this album, Drake was living alone in an old Georgian apartment in Hampstead. In true artist style, the lonely, cold flat came complete with sweeping ceilings, but little creature comforts to speak of, and only one stark and lonely light, hanging from the rafters. This album was titled after a common weather forecast in England at that time, "Cloudy now, brighter later." Bryter Layter was meant to carry Drake forward onto fame. It was extravagantly arranged, with many sonic layers. When it failed to sell, a depression began seeping into Nick. From 'Poor Boy,' a deceptively jazzy number: "Nobody knows/ How cold it grows/ And nobody sees/ How shaky my knees/ Nobody cares/ How steep my stairs/ And nobody smiles/If I cross their stiles." Standouts include the beautiful 'Northern Sky' (Serendipity Soundtrack), the playful and meandering 'Hazey Jane (I&II)', the gorgeous 'Fly' (Royal Tenenbaums soundtrack) and the revealing and poetic 'At the Chime of A City Clock.'
Pink Moon (1972) was recorded alone (with only the sound engineer) in two midnight sessions on consecutive nights, with only one overdub (Nick's own piano playing on the title track). This album, with only Nick's voice and incredible guitar playing, is Nick "distilled" and its purity and immediacy is breathtaking. (Many prefer this album to all others, if I had to pick a favorite, I'd probably agree. But Bryter Layter? Hmm, never mind, I can't pick a favorite. They are all amazing, in their way.) The songs here range from the numbness & lack of emotion of 'Know', to the beautiful and lulling, "Place to Be," to the mesmerizing guitar-driven 'Things Behind the Sun,' to uncanny prophecy (the haunting, ethereal and incredibly beautiful 'Pink Moon,' brought to long-lost fame by the 2000 VW commercial.)
(The commercial gains poignancy when one realizes that one of Nick's passions, besides music, was driving, especially at night. He also loved nature, the seasons, the sun and moon. He would spend hours looking up at the stars at night, according to his father. Ironically perhaps, the commercial is somehow a fitting reflection of Nick's essence, and perhaps explains in part why it's 1-2 punch of music and image fit together so well and caused so many to be so stirred by a mere 30 seconds of exposure to this haunting musician.)
The last album in the set, Time of No Reply, (compiled after Drake's death), includes four songs from Nick's final recording session in 1974. (The haunting Black Eyed Dog and the sad Hanging on A Star are standouts here. Contrary to the recording of Pink Moon two years earlier, Drake was unable to play guitar and sing at the same time at this session, as he was too depressed). Also included on this last album are studio outtakes from the '69 (5LL) sessions, and several home recordings, which had been saved by Nick's father Rodney on a whim. (Thank you Rodney!) (Included are 'Mayfair,' 'Strange Meeting II,' and alternate takes of 'Man in a Shed,' and 'Fly.') And so Nick's legacy was complete, with these four works of brilliant, haunting art.
But Drake fans will be cheered to know that the music is not quite over, yet. His sister Gabrielle is planning to release an album tentatively called "Family Tree" sometime in the next year, with recently acquired outtakes from Nick's (sunny/happy) time in Aix (France, in 1967) and other unreleased material, as well as a couple of songs from Nick's talented mother, who was also a songwriter, Molly.
As others have said, it is definitely worth getting the box set, as the minute you sit down and listen, really listen, to this young man's art, you will be transfixed, and want to hear all you can. Fruit Tree includes complete lyrics to all songs on the set, and a nice little booklet with a mini-biography by Arthur Lubow (from 1978), and some nice photos. Recent box sets should also be the re-mastered ones as well. (5LL, Bryter Layter, and Pink Moon were re-mastered in the last couple of years. Time of No Reply has yet to be re-mastered, since it is more difficult to do this with a non-studio/half home-recorded album.) Pop in these cds and let Nick brighten your (northern?) sky... Amazing!
on September 19, 2002
Five Stars isn't enough.
I recently purchased this box set that includes the entire Nick Drake catalog. I purchased the Way to Blue introduction a couple of years back when I heard Pink Moon in the Cabrio commercial. I had tried to find his stuff before that because of his connections with early John Martyn and I was curious. But Cabrio is the first place I actually heard him - Thank you Volkswagon. Anyway, I was deeply moved by the music on Way to Blue but couldn't be sure I wanted the entire catalog. I finally decided to pick this up and I'm very happy I did. The tune "Fly" alone is worth $$$. There is not one "stinker" in this collection. I cannot figure out what it is about his guy's music that is so... spell binding. It's music from a down-hearted, social outcast that is somehow intensely sad and intensely beautiful at the same time.
The first two discs, Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter are just wonderfully lush and rich in tone. Pink Moon is a total solo effort, stark and downright haunting. Time of No Reply is outakes and demos and the music on this disc is STILL better than most music made in that timeframe or since.
We were very lucky to have a Nick Drake, such a pity no one paid attention while he was with us. It is a testament to this music that 30 years later it continues to grow in popularity as others uncovering these sonic gemstones.
on May 18, 2002
I first was introduced to Nick Drake's music in 1980, when I was in college. I had always enjoyed folksy, offbeat, and/or acoustic music (and have the Tom Rush, Tom Waits, Syd Barrett, and Joni Mitchell albums (vinyl) to prove it). My girlfriend introduced me to an album of his that must have been the compilation that came out before Pink Moon, because it had songs from his first two albums on it. Needless to say, I was blown away. Well things didn't work out and whenever I would find myself in a record store I would ask for Nick Drake. I couldn't describe his genre too well, and no one had heard of him. I couldn't even find a listing for him in the catalogs of the day.
One day, in 1995, I was in a record shop and decided to glance at its box set collections (which I hardly ever do). My jaw dropped when I saw this set up on the wall. The next thing that dropped was my credit card on the counter.
As a non-musician, what strikes me most about Nick Drake is that even as a 20 year old, his stylings, arrangements, vocals, lyrics, and guitar work are impeccable. Even now, I think that I would take two notes from Nick Drake that would make me cry over any 10 minute guitar solo in the world. He was that good. Every time I listen, it's a new experience.
Fast forward to 2000. I am winding down my lunch hour and wander into a downtown Indy coffee shop for a cup 'o' mud to take back to the office. Playing overhead is "One of These Things First". I say to the guy behind the counter (tatoo, nose ring--you get the picture), "So, you like Nick Drake, huh?" The guy was floored and could barely stammer, "YOU know about Nick Drake???!!??" "Sure," I replied, "listened to him all the time back in college."
For me, in a way, Nick Drake was kinda like an old friend, lost after 15 years. And the coffeeshop thing kinda proves that Nick Drake has, can, and will always appeal to people who appreciate good music, whether a grunged coffeeshop 20 something or a 40 something middle aged overweight suit. If that isn't "timeless", what is?? ;)
Nick Drake was one of those rare artistic geniuses that had the ability to perfectly convey his emotions in his medium. Like a Mozart, he was unheralded (for diferent reasons) during his lifetime. Unlike Mozart, he left only a little bit of his talent for us to experience. And it's all right here.
It's just too damn bad that a friend for whom I bought this set, after listening to it, called me and lamented, "You didn't tell me he was DEAD!! There's NO MORE??"
Buy this set. The ONLY thing you will regret is that there is no more.
on November 22, 2001
I have loved Nick Drake since 1986 or 1987, when I read a review of the boxed set and decided to give it a try. His music, more than any other music I have heard, strikes me as similar to the romantic poetry of the 19th century...not so much in terms of the lyrical quality, but in its fragility and portrayal of love and beauty. Each of the disks in this set is wonderful. My favorite is probably "Five Leaves Left", as I think it is the most consistent, but "Bryter Later" has my two favorites: "Northern Sky" and "At the Chime of a City Clock". This is music that would console me when I felt alone, and led me (eventually) to see the great beauty in the world. There is a fragility to this work, the fragility of a wounded man who loves deeply and feels the need to speak of this love. I wish that I could hear these songs again for the first time. I hope that many more people will take the opportunity to do so. There are a few artists who I feel have released as much beautiful music as Nick did, but no-one whose music is so consistently wonderful.
on July 19, 2001
After reading some reviews for Nick Drake I realise that I may have nothing else to add that hasn't already been said about his music. But still I endeavor to find words to express what it is about Nicks music that makes me feel the way I feel.
It is Autumn Day expressions with rain in your mind and clouds surrounding your emotions. It is Poetic in nature and sensable to only pain. It is simplistic in melody and genius in lyric. For those who feel deeply and are sensative to music and are drawn to Acoustical Folk musicians.......I have to say, Nick Drake speaks for the faint of heart.
So the hard part reviewing this is picking which songs you have to hear in order to be sold onto Nick. "Pink Moon" obviously is a great start, it is one of his most simplistic songs and most well known. If it took a Car commercial in order for Nick to take off then so be it. "River Man" is a Must hear......careful not to be drawn in too deep with this song, if you find that life is hard to bear at times, River Man is a song that lets you know that someone has been there before you and was able to sing about it. "Way to Blue"...here we go.....another depressing and overtly emotionaly paralizing song. Other must hear songs that this reviewer recommends...... "Fruit Tree"......."Northern Sky"......."Cello Song"....... "Time has Told Me"........."Poor Boy".....!
So...with all that said......what a shame we have only 3 studio albums and one rare collection from this man......just a shame. Never knowing his popularity and never reaping any amount of success, and even in death at such a young age.....I consider it a great loss to the music world as to what could have been!
This Box set is one I cherish greatly. Nicks music is not for everyone, but you have availiable to listen to some song clips to test these waters and if you come to understand what it is that everyone is talking about in these reviews...then take another step and get this!
on July 13, 2001
I would normally steer clear of boxed sets. They are a big committment to make. You don't want to spend $50 or $100 bucks on a bunch of CDs that could end up collecting dust.
This one, however, is OUTSTANDING. If you don't own any Nick Drake and are afraid to committ, though, you might want to do what I did. I bought "Way to Blue: A Nick Drake Introduction," which has a nice sampling of his four albums. Of course, I loved it. I bought the boxed set and gave "Way to Blue" away and converted another fan.
There are two kinds of people: Those who don't know Nick Drake and are indifferent, and those who do know Nick Drake and adore him. I've yet to meet someone who has heard Nick Drake and doesn't like him. The trick is hearing those sweet sounds for the first time, because the vast majority of people out there still haven't heard of him.
Do what I did: buy another album (they are all equally fantastic) before you jump right into the boxed set. Then upgrade and give your old CD to someone you think will appreciate beautiful music. Drake's music deserves to be remembered, and with this charity, you can convert scores of new fans. I think you will find the only problem with this boxed set is deciding which disc to play first. Enjoy!
on April 17, 2001
Because the quality of Nick Drake's music is so high, you're going to need the box set. Buying any single Drake album is an experience in itself, and soon you'll find yourself addicted to the haunting lyrics and delicate music that flows through Nick Drake's albums. Album for album, each CD is different, and incomparable to the others. Five Leaves Left is intricate, fragile, you can almost hear the hesitation in Nick's vocals. Bryter Layter is slightly more upbeat, less naked and stark than its predecessor, and it contains Nick's most conventionally gorgeous song, "Northern Sky". Where Five Leaves Left was stark, Pink Moon is skeletal, almost in rebellion to Bryter Layter's sonic richness, and is possibly the most breathtakingly haunting and beautiful work in all of popular music. Pink Moon is the soundtrack to Nick's isolation. All in all, the three albums work best when listened to in succession, just let one sink in before playing the next. The posthumous Time Of No Reply is a kind of added bonus, the sweet dessert after an amazing aural smorgasbord.