150. Nick Drake — Five Leaves Left (1969)
- Like many a millennial, I was introduced to Nick Drake via the movie Garden State, a perfect pairing of music and movie, evoking the exact mood Zac Braff hoped to achieve (sometimes more successfully than others). I was struck by his soft, warm voice and soothing sounds, yet never sought out more from the folk artist. Here I am, glad for a chance to rectify that.
- The title of the album, Five Leaves Left, is quite perfect — visualizing the same chilly feeling of the Fall season that the music itself captures. Recorded entirely live in studio, sitting on a stool surrounded by a semicircle of instruments, the album captures an intimacy that’s hard to come by. Drake’s voice pairs with the string arrangements and backing band, and while it’s not particularly upbeat, he manages to imbue the songs with a sense of drive.
- Nowhere is this better reflected than on “‘Cello Song,” with its unique Eastern-ish cello melody and beat. The song is utterly unique and lovely, five instruments coming together to offer a really progressive vision of folk. Elsewhere, “River Man” presents beautiful chord structures and arrangements that call to mind some of Radiohead’s gentler songs. Album closer “Saturday Sun” is gorgeous, built off a piano riff that feels right out of Elton John’s songbook.
- My chief complaint with the album is the same-saminess of much of the music itself, a common fault with similar “guy and his guitar” folk music. Still, Drake does enough to mix things up, between the string arrangements, occasional appearances of bongo drum beats, and varied guitar rhythms. Besides which, the album is as much as anything a mood piece, which makes that minor flaw more forgivable. It’s very much worth a spin.
Next up: Dusty Springfield captures that Memphis sound.
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