Thursday, May 08, 2008

Nick Drake's "Northern Sky"

Here's my weekly reminder to tune in to Sinking with Sylvia (and Sometimes Todd) on Little Radio. The show can now be heard on Friday from Noon - 2:00 PM. Tomorrow their guest is Bobb Bruno. Bobb's played with a lot of bands over the years including: The For Carnation (with Brian McMahan from Slint), Polar Goldie Cats, Goliath Bird Eater and Imaad Wasif. He's also recorded a lot of your favorite Smell bands like: Silver Daggers, Abe Vigoda, Mika Miko and Nels Cline. He also plays solo shows around town in a bunny suit.

Each week, they play a track of my choosing and then I write about it here. I'm still way behind, so today I'm writing about my pick on April 17th, Nick Drake's "Northern Sky." Drake was on my mind after a weekend trip to Kansas (to help my Mom with her taxes). Drake and taxes don't really fit together, but I did take a copy of Trevor Dann's biography, Darker Than the Deepest Sea - The Search for Nick Drake to read on the plane.

Drake's one of those amazing, enigmatic cult artists who died way too young. He left behind three mostly fantastic albums (there are a few tracks on Bryter Layter that I can live without) that are essential for any serious acoustic/rock music fans. In 1999, I read Patrick Humphries' Nick Drake - The Biography, which posed more questions than it answered. So it was with reluctance that I picked up this new biography. To my surprise, Dann has written a much more conclusive portrait. Dann scored some great interviews with childhood friends, traveling companions, Linda Thompson and others who knew him. While some fans might view Dann's writing as conjecture, he seems thorough without being fawning. It makes for a very interesting read. Dann enhances the bio, with a fair amount of criticism of the music.

I picked "Northern Sky" because the book made me want to go back and re-visit Bryter Layter, which is my least favorite Drake record. The book goes into John Cale's (Velvet Underground) involvement with the record. "Northern Sky" is one of two tracks featuring Cale. The two tracks are superior to anything else on the record. There's been a lot of speculation about Drake's sexuality over the years. Dann's book explores all the possibilities. He was a good looking fella, and it's hard for most of us to imagine turning down Francoise Hardy or Linda Thompson. He seemed to become an asexual guy, but he was still able to write this stunning love song.

For newcomers, this is still the last of the studio albums to pick up. For Drake fans, the Dann biography is the first one you should pick up.

Watch a clip from the Drake documentary, A Skin Too Few.
Go to Nick Drake's Myspace page and listen to "Northern Sky"

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