Way To Blue: The Songs of Nick Drake - Various Artists (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
“EVERY week, somewhere in the world, singers gather in clubs and halls to sing the songs of Nick Drake. It is sobering to think that more people now hear his songs in a month than ever heard them in his lifetime.”
This thought-provoking quote comes from Joe Boyd, his original producer, and was used as the inspiration for building this tribute album, featuring the likes of Teddy Thompson, Vashti Bunyan, Green Gartside, Robyn Hitchcock, Lisa Hannigan, Scott Matthews, Krystle Warren, Danny Thompson and more.
However, in order to avoid the pitfalls of the typical tribute album, Boyd sought to bring everyone together for a week in a rural studio, backing each other with harmonies and guitar parts, to create an organic whole of an album.
By performing Way To Blue 15 times over the course of four years, he has accomplished something resembling his original dream as the ensuing songs have been honed and shaped over the course of time, and the spirit of togetherness among the Way To Blue company has proved inspiring to all participants.
The recordings on this new CD are the edited highlights of concerts in London and Melbourne and provide evidence of the timeless depth of Drake’s qualities as a songwriter.
There’s much to savour, from Luluc’s beautifully delivered opener, Things Behind The Sun, which really does tap into the fragile acoustic and autumnal style of Drake’s music, or the subtle combination of acoustics and electrics that Scott Matthews (complete with trademark gruff vocals) delivers on Place To Be.
Shane Nicholson’s piano-based, almost jazzy take on Poor Boy delivers some sunshine into the autumnal sound, while Krystle Warren purrs broodingly over Time Has Told Me (a song she asked to perform, and which Boyd believes should be Roberta Flack’s follow-up to The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.
Warren crops up on another highlight, dueting with Teddy Thompson on the vibrant album closer Pink Moon (which fittingly ends with a round of applause from an appreciative audience, the only time they’re heard on the LP), while Robyn Hitchcock brings a touch of class to Parasite… another song dripping in melancholy, yet containing a fragile beauty and even a bite during its chorus.
If there’s one minor disappointment, it’s perhaps the instrumental version of One Of These Things First, which strips the song of its lyrical power.
But Vashti Bunyan’s take on Which Will is quietly mesmerising, complete with string backing, while Lisa Hannigan’s wild take on Black Eyed Dog perhaps has that rare distinction of bettering the original (the combination of her evocative vocals and lively instrumentals, complete with violins and guitars trading riffs is amazing)!
For Drake fans and newcomers alike, this lovingly crafted collection is damn near essential. It’s a fitting tribute to a lost talent.
Download picks: Things Behind The Sun, Black Eyed Dog, Poor Boy, Pink Moon, Which Will, River Man, Saturday Sun, When The Day Is Done, Rider On The Weel