Monday, 20 March 2017

"Nick Drake" by NICK DRAKE [August 1971 USA-Only LP Compilation on Island Records SMAS-9307 - Compiled From Inside 2013's 5CD "Tuck Box" on Universal) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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August 1971 US-Only 8-Track LP "Nick Drake" on Island SMAS-9307

"...You're A Very Rare Find..."

A bloody rare find indeed!

The first mention of this staggeringly hard-to-find album is the 31 July 1971 publication of Billboard in the USA – amazingly given a whole page heralding the immanent coming of Nick Drake's debut American LP "Nick Drake" on Island Records SMAS-9307 (Island was then distributed Stateside by Capitol Records hence the SMAS prefix on the catalogue number). Even now in 2017 – this expensive full-page confidence seems amazing - nestled amongst sizeable adverts for Humble Pie's "Rock On", AMPEX Tape Machines and how many Rock Bands had used SHURE microphones to get down their shtick – there it sits - a stark full-page advert for Island SMAS-9307. But who outside of industry insiders noticed?

Using the rear cover photo of September 1969's "Five Leaves Left" as its front aspect (the blurred man running past Nick who is stood up against a wall) – that snap is centred on a gatefold cover that bears no title on the front. The advert advises that he's had two albums in Blighty and that this is a compilation of songs from both. It also tells us that American punters have called in after hearing DJs play UK imports of his first two records – asking for such a release on their turf (oh yeah).

The cold commercial truth was probably a lot less generous and not so grass roots. In the same 31 July 1971 Billboard publication is another full-page advert without any words at all – just a photo of a beaming James Taylor standing beside an equally elated Carole King. Carole’s magisterial "Tapestry" had been released in February on Ode 70 Records and Taylor's second LP "Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon" on Warner Brothers in June of 1971. With both albums slaughtering all in their Grammy-winning singer-songwriter path (LPs and 45s) – someone at Island USA was more likely trying to tap into that same burgeoning market when they compiled the 8-song "Nick Drake".

They even went as far as giving the LP a rather lovely inner gatefold with a smiling carefree Nick reclining in green English grass - the track credits printed tastefully over to the right of the double-spread photo. Technically - the 1971 American LP "Nick Drake" featured 3 tracks from "Five Leaves Left" (1 on Side 1 and 1 and 2 on Side 2) with the five remaining being from "Bryter Layter". It can be sequenced as follows:

Side 1:
1. 'Cello Song
2. Poor Boy
3. At The Chime Of A City Clock
4. Northern Star
Side 2:
1. River Man
2. Three Hours
3. One Of These Things First
4. Fly

The following week – 8 August 1971 – it gets a single line entry in the New Releases section and is never heard of again. In a final act of superstar cult recognition – it was repressed using the year 2000 John Wood Remasters onto a vinyl LP with a poster for Record Store Day 2013. No longer a Poor Boy thank God. On to the music...

You can digitally sequence this 8-track LP by buying the two stand-alone CD Remasters from June 2000 – his September 1969 debut "Five Leaves Left" and his second LP – November 1970’s "Bryter Layter". But you can absolutely never have enough of ND – so I’d advise taking the immersive plunge and plum for the 5CD "Tuck Box" from December 2013 - a treasure trove of beautiful music presented in a really lovely way.

"Tuck Box" by NICK DRAKE is a 5CD Box Set on Universal/Island 0602537538546 (Barcode 602537538546) that consists of 5CDs in repro card digipaks with 5 accompanying foldout colour posters - the press-released full-page adverts for each album. As you can see from the photo – Universal have used his N. R. Drake '69 schoolroom Tuck Box as the Box set’s artwork.

The first 3 CDs in this Box Set are his officially released catalogue before his tragic loss in 1974 – the 28 June 2000 CD remasters done by SIMON HEYWORTH and JOHN WOOD (the albums original engineer). The sound quality on all three sets is absolutely exceptional - carefully and beautifully transferred. And of course his music is magical Singer-Songwriter Folk-Rock of the highest quality – songs imbibed with joy, sadness and a rare pathos that reaches out across the decades even now.

To sequence the American LP - the two CDs you'll need are...

Disc 1 "Five Leaves Left" (41:45 minutes):
1. Time Has Told Me [Side 1]
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 his debut UK album "Five Leaves Left" - released 1 November 1969 in the UK on Island Records ILPS 9105 - reissued on Remaster CD in June 2000.

Disc 2 "Bryter Layter" (39:26 minutes):
1. Introduction [Side 1]
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 10 are his 2nd UK studio album "Bryter Layter" - released 1 November 1970 in the UK on Island Records ILPS 9134 - reissued on Remaster CD in June 2000.

The compilers of the 8-track American LP clearly saw the pattern across his first two British albums - acoustic based tunes with the double-bass acting as a rhythm section - providing each with that lovely shuffle his best music has.

The irrepressible "'Cello Song" opens proceedings – a stunner that gets me every time. The hiss levels increase a tad unfortunately on "At The Chime Of A City Clock" but not enough to detract - while "Northern Sky" still exudes romantic 'magic' every time I hear it and has been used in movies for just such a purpose (that ice-rink scene with Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack at the end of "Serendipity"). Another huge favourite is the gorgeous "One Of These Things First" and the jazzy "Poor Boy" – both sounding like a male-fronted Fairground Attraction decades before their time.

In a 'starry, starry night' kind of way - you just can't help thinking that someone as beautiful as Nick Drake deserved glory – but received so little of it on either side of the pond. And when you sequence these eight songs together – you wonder how so many simply didn’t get it back then.

A gorgeous reminder and perhaps the coolest vinyl rarity you can now have in your digital home for a CD pittance.

"...Please give me a second grace..." – he sang on the "Bryter Layter" ballad "Fly". 

I couldn’t agree more... 

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