Poor Boy: Songs of Nick Drake
Various Artists | Poor Boy: Songs of Nick Drake

Songlines • www.songlines.com

I find it a huge challenge to review music of an artist with whom I feel a true affinity. Nick Drake is someone I had discovered quite late in life. I was already in my late 20’s when his music blew across my musical horizon. His records barged right into my life and populated my overall musical sensibility. The thoughtful way Drake had of expressing the finest details, the words he used to convey a feeling and even the lift in his voice to express his state of being made me feel tingles run up and down my spine. This was no ordinary artist and the deeper I dug, the more I felt the loss of the music that could’ve been, had he lived longer than his all too short lifespan.

Originally put on as a massive 4-hour tribute concert that took place in Vancouver in 1999, Poor Boy: Songs of Nick Drake was actually re-invented between 2002 and 2003. The mastermind behind it all was Songlines honcho Tony Reif, who decided to invite a dozen well-known musicians from the Vancouver area along with people from outside of the geographical west coast region. One of those from outside of Vancouver is vocalist Ian Masters (of disbanded Pale Saints) who under the guise of Friendly Science Orchestra gives a stark version of “Parasite”. Alongside Masters on vocals, guitar, ukulele, taishyogoto and saw, we get Ishigami Kazuya, who plays “flute thing”, field, storm, stretched bell and low tone. The result is haunting and quite direct reading of the original.

Veda Hille and Robin Holcombe do a whimsical take on “Road” that is augmented by Francois Houle’s soulful clarinet playing. “River Man” is construed by vocalist Jesse Sykes (with a fine band, which features viola/bass player Eyvind Kang), while “Poor Boy” is reinvented in a minimal but gutsy way by vocalist Kate Hammett-Vaughan, who is helped out by guitarist Bill Horist and percussionist Tucker Martine. Pianist Gestrin and bassist Simon Fisk do a direct reading of “One of These Things First” and “Cello Song” is brought to life skillfully by vocalist Aiko Shimada (whose voice adds a certain level of back-country simplicity to the song), guitarist Bill Horist and percussionist Tucker Martine.

The only non-Drake tune on the album is a sprawling piece (composed, though it sounds improvised in many sections) called “For Nick/Horn/Now” that is sung by Danielle Hebert, who is joined by clarinet player Francois Houle, guitarist Tony Wilson, trumpeter Brad Turner, violinist Jesse Zubot, cellist Peggy Lee and percussionist Dylan van der Schyff.

The album ends with a stark interpretation of “From The Morning” as done by vocalist/guitarist Mike Dumovich. His barren, wrenching voice is the perfect way to end a very articulate compilation that sounds like a coherent whole rather than simply a bunch of randomly thrown together pieces of dissimilar music. For those who have the equipment to enjoy the benefits, the CD was recorded in SACD technology. A must for all Nick Drake fans as well as those who’ve never heard of the legend.

Tom Sekowski – March 2008 – (first published in a different form by Gaz-Eta)

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Tom Sekowski
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