Friday, May 9, 2008

Nick Drake 5: Made To Love Magic and Family Tree

Several years before the Volkswagen resurgence, Nick’s producer, the legendary Joe Boyd, put together the Way To Blue compilation, designed as an “introduction” to Nick Drake. It sold very well through the rest of the ‘90s, leading to repackaged versions of the individual CDs with new graphics. The Internet did a lot to spread the word about Nick and his music, but once Volkswagen stopped running their “Pink Moon” commercial, there hadn’t been much to add to the story. That changed in 2004, with the release of Made To Love Magic.
This album was designed as a companion to Way To Blue, and something of a reworking of Time Of No Reply. It covers much of the same ground as that album—with six identical tracks—but just enough to make it different and maddening, yet still essential for the Nick fanatic. With seven out of 13 songs previously unheard, it’s not entirely redundant, but it did mess with what had been a pretty tidy legacy.
“Magic” is a completely new version of “I Was Made To Love Magic” that retains the vocal from the original take, and adds a newly-recorded arrangement originally composed back in the day by Nick’s friend and arranger of choice, Robert Kirby. “Time Of No Reply” was also embellished by a newly-recorded Kirby arrangement of similar vintage. “Three Hours” is an earlier alternate version from the sessions for Five Leaves Left, featuring Reebop Kwaakhu Baah (later of Traffic) on congas and an unknown flautist. “River Man” is a 1968 demo, the earliest recording of this song, captured on a tape of a performance in Kirby’s dorm room at Cambridge. “Mayfair” is another demo from the same tape, and doesn’t sound as bashful as the Time Of No Reply version.
But the big news was saved for the end. While preparing this set, the engineer let the tape run on after the alternate version of “Hanging On A Star”—a striking take from the last 1974 sessions, and included here—and another song was discovered. No notation of it was on the box, and so remained unknown for 30 years. While fragments of demos had emerged from the home recordings, “Tow The Line” was truly the Holy Grail—an actual unreleased Nick Drake song. While hardly destined to replace any other as someone’s favorite, it sits well alongside the other 1974 recordings, and is certainly welcome. If you listen closely at the end you can hear the sound of Nick putting his guitar down for a fitting conclusion: the absolute last recording of Nick Drake.

Along with Made To Love Magic, the estate planned another companion album of sorts that emerged after a three-year gap. For fanatics only, Family Tree collects a variety of home recordings—two of which had been included on Time Of No Reply—that represented a mere smattering of what had escaped from the vaults and had been circulating on bootlegs for years. They even took the bold step of including performances by Drakes other than Nick to show his “musical education”. There are a few demos of later album tracks, covers of blues and folk songs by Bob Dylan and Jackson C. Frank, and a few otherwise unreleased originals, like “Bird Flew By”, “Rain” and “Blossom”, but again, it’s only necessary if you’ve already inhaled everything else and have to have more.

Nick Drake Way To Blue: An Introduction To Nick Drake (1994)—
Nick Drake Made To Love Magic (2004)—4
Nick Drake Family Tree (2007)—

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