Nick Drake - Dimonds and Rust: Nick Drake- Fruit Tree

Dan Round 05/12/2007

“Time has told me… you are a rare, rare find, indeed…"

Lovingly packaged, “Fruit Tree” collects all three Nick Drake studio albums with an array of extra goodies and treats for fans of the acoustic troubadour, who suffered from depression and seemingly committed suicide in November 1974 at the tragic age of 26. Including a new book on Drake that has a song-by-song analysis by Joe Boyd, John Wood, Robert Kirby and Robin Frederick, who all worked closely with him, it is an extensive set. With an ever increasing popularity thanks partly to that Volkswagen ad from a few years back, and partly also due to his massive influence on contemporary folk artists, this neat boxset of four discs (three CDs and a DVD) is the perfect opportunity to lay out Drake's legacy in its entirety for all to see.

Starting in chronological order, debut album “Five Leaves Left”, originally released in 1969, is perhaps the defining Nick Drake album. While not his greatest work, “Five Leaves Left” showcases Drake's folksy, stripped down routes best. Recorded with members of folk legends Fairport Convention, the album peaks with the acoustic-orchestral “River Man”, the frantic fast-paced fretwork of “Cello Song”, and the heart wrenching balladry of “The Thoughts of Mary Jane”. The album, too, is the starting point of Drake's experimentation and “Three Hours”, in particular with its tribal drumming, shows his musical versatility as a singer-songwriter.

Taken one year after “Five Leaves Left”, its successor “Bryter Layter” is without doubt the most instrumentally complex of the three albums with a fully assembled band and a more prominent influence of sound ranging from jazz and blues to the usual psychedelic-folk. The album does, however, manage to retain the low-key, ambient Drake signature sound. The most laid-back Drake expedition? Most probably. Listening to the soothing strings and chilling flute of closer “Sunday”, you would not expect the writer at the time to have such troubles - by 1970 Drake was addicted to anti-depressants, and often appeared awkward when playing live. Nevertheless, “Bryter Layter” is a solid and genuinely uplifting album; the calm of cool classic “Northern Sky” is unmistakable, and the album is complete with the all-star addition of John Cale's viola on “Fly”, a traditional styled folk, haunting lament. Both producer Joe Boyd and engineer John Wood cite “Bryter Layter” as the best album they ever worked on.

Drake's final record, however, is his work of genius. Collected within this boxset, its visionary is obvious and brilliantly breathtaking. Recorded unaccompanied and released two years after “Bryter Layter”, “Pink Moon” brims with melody and melancholy hand-in-hand and is a masterpiece in every way possible; profound poetry, graceful music and a fantastic artistic statement (its cover art of bleak, trippy imagery, has to be one of the most striking images in musical history). Drake's note perfect acoustic is a deadly weapon on this album, rattling along creating intricate rhythms and sounds. The songs are Drake's real mouthpiece, however; “Which Will” is a bittersweet ode to an estranged lover, “Parasite” a gloomy insight and a take on him being “the parasite of this town”, while the title track is both sparse in words and arrangement. With the exception of his small piano part on the title track, only Drake's guitar and distinctive vocal appear on the album. While there is no doubt it is his most austere album, and could well be considered to be his least accessible for that very reason, the listener is no doubt rewarded fruitfully for their attention. “Pink Moon” did not in 1972 provide Drake the platform on which to build a commercially successful career, but it is the very album that provided his ultimate legacy, and its intelligence, humanity and harrowing depth make it an all time classic.

While to most fans the three albums are not new, the documentary “A Skin Too Few”, filmed in 2000 and now included as the exclusive feature on the DVD of this boxset, may well be. At just 48 minutes it is a little on the short side perhaps, but the film is a well constructed and thoughtful tribute taking the Nick Drake story from his childhood to his untimely death and posthumous popularity some thirty plus years later. Packed with interviews given by the people closest to Nick as well as other musicians including Paul Weller, it provides a wonderful insight with varying opinions on him, and it gives a reliable account of his life regarding both his music and personal being. Complete with family pictures, older sister Gabrielle Drake supplies a large chunk of the documentary with touching memories, reminiscing about their upbringing in the well-off Tanworth-in-Arden. One of the most moving moments in “A Skin Too Few” is when Gabrielle reads out a poignant letter written by her brother during his time at Cambridge, just before he began recording. "I always said that Nick was born with a skin too few", Gabrielle says of him, talking compassionately about the tragic figure she was obviously so close to. With Drake's haunting music in the background, the images and scenes throughout are eloquently affecting. The film, too, delves into the technical side of recording with a detailed analysis in the studio by the record's producers, bound to keep the musos enthralled.

“Fruit Tree” is a thing of wonder; three majestic, now considered classic, albums, a thought provoking documentary on the music's maker, as well as wondrous supplementary artwork and sleeve notes. The press shots, too, are fantastic, and with the CDs placed in vinyl replica sleeves it is very much authentic. If you opt for the vinyl version of the pack, it too remains original with the three records in the same sleeves plus the same booklet and DVD. All-in-all then, this is a stunning set and without doubt one of the best boxset releases of the year. Portraying Nick Drake in all his mystical glory, it is a must for all sensitive souls and music lovers. A unique achievement.