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Second Grace: The Music of Nick Drake

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Album Review

It's a tribute — pun intended — to the remarkable rise in Nick Drake's posthumous popularity that there are more Drake tribute albums than there are actual albums by Nick Drake. The decision of classical piano virtuoso Christopher O'Riley to devote an entire album to instrumental piano interpretations of Drake's work is itself a testament to Drake's crossover from cultdom to the mainstream. You don't see classical pianists, after all, devoting entire tribute albums to Roy Harper, or Roky Erickson. That doesn't necessarily mean, however, that giving Nick Drake a classical treatment is a sensational idea, any more than it has been on most of the occasions when there have been classical interpretations of rock and pop artists' canons. Performing 14 of Drake's songs on a Hamburg Steinway Concert Grand piano, O'Riley does give accomplished performances of material taken not only from each of the three LPs Drake released during his lifetime, but also from the one (Time of No Reply) assembled after Drake's death. So much of what makes Drake's music memorable, however, was present not only in his melodies, but also in his vocals, underrated guitar work, and (at least before recording the spare Pink Moon) the way his arrangements combined folk guitar, rock instrumentation, and classical orchestration. Hearing the compositions done solely on piano does make one aware of the inherent graceful musicality of Drake's writing — not every popular music composer of note can be adapted in this manner. Yet it's also a little numbing and precious when heard in such an instrumentally limited fashion for 65 minutes straight. And it's unclear exactly who will appreciate this most — many, and probably most, Drake fans aren't going to be interested in hearing his tunes smoothed over into a piano recital format. If it helps in any way to bring Drake's music, albeit minus its lyrics, to an audience who doesn't listen to pop, so much the better. But Drake's work does lose something in the translation to something notably more polite in tone, somewhat in the way blues sounds when played as George Winston piano instrumentals.

Customer Reviews

Simply gorgeous.

Imaginative and unique, yet not straying too far from Drake's original music.


Born: Illinois

Genre: Classical

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Growing up near Chicago, Christopher O'Riley took lessons in classical piano but played in rock and fusion bands throughout middle and high school before his family moved to Pittsburgh and he began experimenting with jazz. Still, it was to classical music that he turned as a profession, attending the New England Conservatory in Boston. His first releases followed in this vein, solo performances of works by composers like Schumann, Beethoven, Ravel, Busoni, and Stravinsky, and he even began hosting...
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Second Grace: The Music of Nick Drake, Christopher O'Riley
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