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Five Leaves Left

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iTunes Review

The haunting songs of Nick Drake continue to fascinate fans worldwide over 30 years after his untimely death. Beneath his music's delicately melodic surface are depths of emotion and insight few singer-songwriters have approached. Five Leaves Left, his 1969 debut, was recorded while Drake was still a student at Cambridge University. As a singer, he displays self-assurance far beyond his years, combining folk influences with jazz-tinged phrasing. Such tracks as "Way to Blue," "River Man" and "Saturday Sun" capture longing and loss in moody watercolor tones. "Time Has Told Me" and "Thoughts of Mary Jane" are evocative love songs, while "Fruit Tree" ponders the price of fame. Produced by folk-rock maven Joe Boyd, the album's tracks are enhanced by Richard Thompson's tasteful guitar and Robert Kirby's inspired orchestrations. A timelessly beguiling work, Five Leaves Left is the luminous first creation of an artist destined to become a legend.

Customer Reviews

Man on a Pedestal

Nick Drake is an increasingly prominent figure in our recent music history - coming from almost total obscurity in the early 70's, He has slowly been transformed by word of mouth, changing attitudes towards folk and one fateful car advert into a huge cult icon. His music, life and even his untimely death are cloaked in an enigmatic shroud, one carefully preserved and zealously celebrated by scores of devoted fans the world over - to describe Drake as one of musics' great cult heroes is by no means an overstatement. It's easy to see why, too - a strikingly handsome man, Drake was also remarkably gifted guitarist and singer/songwriter. Furthermore (and critically, I feel), he died very young, affected by some deep sense of isolation and sadness that led to clinical depression and made unable to cope with the world on a practical level. Looking at the few pictures and audio recordings that exist, he is a beguiling figure, a remote, wistful statue forever frozen in black and white and shadow. Even the most cynical and manipulative record company could not engineer such a perfect musical martyr; the sheer amount of mystery surrounding the man allows us to see him as a we want to see him - a perfect, untainted relic of some distant romantic age. However, It seems unfair to hold him up as this immaculate, untouchable genius. While his albums are all undoubtedly stunning, their raw beauty is not without it's flaws. Drake delegated much of the creative process, most notably composition of the orchestration and backing instrumentation to others, and that is sometimes in evidence in it's unsuitability. 'Poor Boy' is probably the worst example of this, with gospel-style backing singers repeatedly sabotaging Drake's calm vocals with their cacophonic screeching. I may exaggerate slightly, but it's infuriating that such a poor choice was ever made, and that Drake did not immediately correct it. Although not nearly as serious, I also feel that songs like 'Thoughts of Mary Jane', 'Hazey Jane I', 'Introduction', 'Bryter Layter' and 'Sunday' could have all done with accompaniments that were far less twee and overwrought. Drake demonstrated beyond a doubt on Pink Moon that his music worked without these elaborate orchestral trappings, and it's a real shame he relied so heavily on them for his first two albums. Drake's lyrics could also be lackluster at times. Although generally measured, insightful and beautiful, a handful of songs are peppered with inexplicably weak phrases that are either clumsy and seem to lack any subtlety of meaning or are so unnecessarily melodramatic that they become almost cringe-worthy. While there was definitely an exceptionally gifted lyricist present in Nick Drake ('One Of These Things First' is nothing short of masterful), his use of florid romantic prose could sometimes result in a song feeling a little overburdened with his special brand of obscure imagery. It may just be my modern ears, but I often find myself craving something a little more understated in a few of his tracks. Yes, I know I'm being pedantic, but the sheer scale of the adoration that often surrounds Nick Drake puts unrealistic expectations on his music. I personally know several people who feel a great deal of fondness for his albums, but are so put off by the fanatical 'He can do no wrong' sentiment of many Drake lovers that they feel themselves unable to truly enjoy it. Saying all that, I would like to make it clear that he is and will always be one of my favorite artists. His keen musicality, his incredibly guitar playing and his songs that speak wistfully of his own personal despair about the cyclic, ever changing and inescapable truths of life, love and loneliness always have a special place in my heart and my collection. Incredible? Undoubtedly. Perfect? Not quite.


Five Leaves Left is a beautiful album, and quite frankly there aren't enough of those in the world, so treasure it when you buy it. Then explore it, learn it, bore your friends with it. Play it over and over until it becomes part of what you need every day until you stop for a week, then a month, then a year, before you play it again and it floods all over you and you can't quite imagine how you've really managed without it. Repeat. Utterly, utterly essential.

Quite beautiful

Quite simply... Nick Drake is one of the most unheard pleasures ever to grace our airwaves. Highly recommended.


Born: 19 June 1948 in Rangoon, Burma

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '60s, '70s

A singular talent who passed almost unnoticed during his brief lifetime, Nick Drake produced several albums of chilling, somber beauty. With hindsight, these have come to be recognized as peak achievements of both the British folk-rock scene and the entire rock singer/songwriter genre. Sometimes compared to Van Morrison, Drake in fact resembled Donovan much more in his breathy vocals, strong melodies, and the acoustic-based orchestral sweep of his arrangements. His was a much darker vision than Donovan's,...
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