Thursday, 21 August 2014

"Tuck Box" by NICK DRAKE (2013 Universal/Island Records 5CD Box Set (Mostly 2000 Remasters)) - A Review by Mark Barry...




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There are two ways of looking at this 5CD release - for longtime NICK DRAKE fans it's a pain (buying what you already own) - but for newcomers or just the curious - "Tuck Box" is a treasure trove of beautiful music presented in a really rather lovely way.

Released Monday 9 December 2013 - "Tuck Box" by NICK DRAKE on Universal/Island 0602537538546 (Barcode 602537538546) consists of 5CDs in repro card digipaks with 5 accompanying fold-out colour posters - the press-released full-page adverts for each album. The box sticker and rear details clearly state that this is previously released material.

The first 3 CDs are his officially released catalogue before his tragic loss in 1974. These CDs are NOT DIFFERENT to the 28 June 2000 CD remasters done by Simon Heyworth and John Wood (the album's original engineer). Disappointingly the altered album artwork on those reissues has also been copied here and the booklets are exactly the same too (filled with lyrics and some photographs). The sound quality on all three sets is exceptional - carefully remastered - and the music is magical - in fact listening to "Cello Song" even now reduces me to shivers. Here are the breakdowns…

Disc 1 “Five Leaves Left” (Debut Studio LP - 41:45 minutes):
1. Time Has Told Me
2. River Man
3. Three Hours
4. Way To Blue
5. Day Is done
6. ‘Cello Song [Side 2]
7. The Thoughts Of Mary Jane
8. Man In A Shed
9. Fruit Tree
10. Saturday Sun
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "Five Leaves Left" - his debut vinyl album was released 1 November 1969 in the UK on Island Records ILPS 9105 - reissued on Remaster CD in June 2000.

Disc 2 “Bryter Layter” (2nd studio album - 39:26 minutes):
1. Introduction
2. Hazey Jane II
3. At The Chime Of A City Clock
4. One Of These Things First
5. Hazey Jane I
6. Bryter Layter [Side 2]
7. Fly
8. Poor Boy
9. Northern Sky
10. Sunday
Tracks 1 to 2 are "Bryter Layter" - released 1 November 1970 in the UK on Island Records ILPS 9134

Disc 3 “Pink Moon” (3rd and final studio album - 28:30 minutes):
1. Pink Moon
2. Place To Be
3. Road
4. Which Will
5. Horn
6. Things Behind The Sun [Side 2]
7. Know
8. Parasite
9. Free Ride
10. Harvest Breed
11. From The Moring
Tracks 1 to 11 are his 3rd and final album "Pink Moon" - released 25 February 1972 in the UK on Island Records ILPS 9184

Disc 4 "Made To Love Magic" (Compilation - 41:52 minutes):
1. Rider On The Wheel
2. Magic
3. River Man
4. Joey
5. Thoughts Of Mary Jane
6. Mayfair
7. Hanging On A Star
8. Three Hours
9. Clothes Of sand
10. Voices
11. Time Of No Reply
12. Black Eyed Dog
13. Tow The Line
“Made To Love Magic” is a posthumous 13-track CD/LP compilation of unreleased outtakes and alternate versions (including 5 tracks from his never-finished 4th album). It was issued 24 March 2004 and features John Wood and Simon Heyworth Remasters/Remixes with additional help from Jeremy Gill.

Disc 5 “Family Tree” (64:34 minutes):
1. Come In To The Garden (Introduction)
2. They’re Leaving Me Behind
3. Time Piece
4. Poor Mum (Performed by Molly Drake)
5. Winter Is Gone
6. All My Trials (Performed by Nick Drake and Gabrielle Drake)
7. Mozart’s Kegelstatt Trio (Performed by The Family Trio)
8. Strolling Down The Highway
9. Paddling In Rushmere
10. Cocaine Blues
11. Blossom
12. Been Smoking Too Long
13. Black Mountain Blues
14. Tomorrow Is A Long Time
15. If You Leave Me
16. Here Come The Blues
17. Sketch 1
18. Blues Run The Game [Jackson C. Frank cover version]
19. Milk And Honey
20. Kimbie
21. Birdie Flew By
22. Rain
23. Strange Meeting II
24. Day Is Done
25. Come Into The Garden
26. Way To Blue
27. Do You Ever Remember? (Performed by Molly Drake)
Tracks 1 to 27 are "Family Tree" - another posthumous compilation on CD and LP released 9 July 2007 and featuring 27 tracks recorded between 1967 and 1969 (prior to his debut).

Each album is now in an oversized card digipak with a small booklet using the 2000 CD reissues artwork (shame they didn’t revert to the original album looks)  - the two posthumous compilations use their original art. The only discernible difference is that the "Five Leaves Left" CD label now sports an even more garish PINK label than its predecessor. The digipaks are all inset into the box in a hollow with Nick Drake’s lyrics typed around the edges of on the box on the inside. There's no stand-alone booklet unfortunately – nor it would seem any new remasters – these are the JOHN WOOD versions carried out in 2000 for the three studio albums. The sound is glorious it has to be said – especially as much of the music is acoustic based with the double-bass acting as a rhythm section. There’s clarity, warmth and presence – its all here.

The first album is astonishing – great tunes, cool trippy backing and those sad as a river string arrangements on stuff like “Fruit Tree” and “Way To Blue”. The irrepressible “’Cello Song” gets me every time and Alexis Korner became the first person I know of who covered a Nick Drake song – the album finisher “Saturday Sun” – he did it on his “Alexis Korner” album from July 1971 on RAK Records.

The hiss levels increase a tad on “At The Chime Of A City Clock” and on the lovely instrumental “Bryter Layter” while “Northern Sky” still exudes romantic ‘magic’ (and has been used in movies for just such a purpose). My favourite is the gorgeous “One Of These Things First” and the jazzy “Poor Boy” sounds like a male-fronted Fairground Attraction decades before their time.

The album that no one bought – the solo “Pink Moon” is probably every fan’s crave – beautiful and ethereal like John Martyn’s “Solid Air” which in itself would arrive a year later (February 1973) also on the mighty Island Records). Relistening to its stark and bare songs (just him and a guitar) - history would have us ask why Island never released “Pink Moon” or the lovely “Place To Be” as 7” singles – maybe capture the airwaves like Labi Siffre and Cat Stevens had?

The first compilation “Made To Love Magic” is a triumph - all the material receiving serious digital polishing from John Wood and Jeremy Gill. The orchestration they put on “Magic” is from his own notes – so we hear now the stunning song - as it would have been. The trio of - “Hanging On A Star”, “Joey” and “Clothes Of Sand” are simply stunning (complete with playing mistakes) – an indication as to how good his songwriting had become (“something has taken you so far from me…”)

Having said that - if you're new to Drake and his wonderful soft singer-songwriter beauty - then this is a lovely way to kindle a romance that will stay with you like Joni Mitchell lyrics work their way into your consciousness. But in a 'starry night' kind of way - you just can't help thinking that someone as beautiful as Nick Drake deserved just a little bit more effort than this... And the cool “Tow The Line” was his last recording. And as ‘interesting’ as much of “Family Tree” is (“Winter is Gone” and “Blues Run The Game”) – the huge hiss levels and poor quality of the recordings means that most of it is a curio at best.

So there you have it – 3 released albums of near perfection – one quality posthumous compilation and another after-the-fact set that I’d argue should have stayed in the can. But oh what a legacy his music is – I just wish it was ongoing – and not that horrible full stop in 1974…

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