Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left
1969 – Island Records
Five Leaves Left was Nick Drake’s first album (he only released 3). As I’ve talked about before, the arc of albums, especially trilogies, is very interesting to me. In this case, the first album features a small ensemble playing through the tunes. For his second album, Bryter Layter, the ensemble is expanded to feature brass and a larger string section, very heavy on production. For his final album, Pink Moon, that is all stripped away and most of the album is just Drake’s voice and guitar (with piano on one tune). Five Leaves Left, though, is probably my favorite. The mood that is set by this LP is one of its best features. Drake battled serious depression through his life and this album could be viewed through that lens, but there is much more to it. Yes, the songs are laid back, sparse, and feature minor keys, but there is a string of hopefulness that runs just beneath the surface. For some reason, this album reminds me of the Fall, with is relief from Summer heat and the promise and uncertainty of a new school year. Perhaps this is where the hopefulness comes into play, drawing upon personal experiences removed from the music. In addition to the tone of the album, the musicianship stands out as a high point. Drake was known for unusual tunings of his guitar, but I don’t know enough about the guitar to hear if he utilized that on this album or just on his later ones. His voice is unique and completely calming. The string arrangements are great and the studio musicians do a great job of playing for the song. The sequencing of tracks was well crafted. The album flows up and down all leading to the final track, “Saturday Sun”, which is the first and only occurrence of vibraphone on the album. This closer is perfect in that is sums up the album as a whole. If you were to pick one track to describe this LP to someone, “Saturday Sun” would be it. The back cover features a picture of Drake standing against a wall gazing at an out of focus man running past. This is the photographic embodiment of the album. Drake was focused and sure of his musical identity as the world passed him by. He was not popular during his lifetime, but has had a posthumous recognition by fans and critics alike. If you haven’t listened to him yet, do yourself a favor and check him out. You won’t be disappointed.