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Nick Drake


The problem with being an icon is that you're often dead before you get there. Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix--famous in their lifetimes, icons after their deaths. Then there's someone like Vincent Van Gogh. Iconic now, but unknown and impoverished in his day. The British folk icon Nick Drake, too, did not enjoy fame and fortune during his life, but achieved them, along with his iconic status, after his tragic, early death in 1974. The three studio albums he recorded during his too short career are revered and his fans long for any bootleg, any rumor of previously unknown recordings. Made To Love Magic, a compilation of alternate versions of Drake classics, original but heretofore unrecorded string arrangements, and some songs that didn't make it onto his albums, should satisfy the craving for a while.

This album seems like a series of happy reunions. It brings together people who not only knew Drake, but worked with him on his records; it liberates from obscurity in some cases superior versions of previously released songs; and it brings home-recordings made by his Cambridge friend Robert Kirby (who also wrote the aforementioned string arrangements) to the waiting and open ears of Drake's fans. The two songs from Kirby's tapes, "River Man" and "Mayfair," represent some of the most intimate and immediate moments on the album, yet Drake's performances are anything but tossed off. His warm vocals and characteristically quirky guitar playing are the equal of any he did later, in more formal settings. Though many of the other songs on Made To Love Magic have appeared on previous compilations, this particular grouping feels especially cohesive and alive. Producer John Wood, who engineered the original studio recordings that appear here, has remixed all the songs and the result of his and other of Drake's cohorts loving attention to the task is a beautiful sounding album that gives a multi-faceted and intimate view of Nick Drake's music.

Though many of these versions were performed solo, there are a couple of pretty cool guests on Magic. A young Richard Thompson played electric guitar on the original 1968 session of "Thoughts Of Mary Jane" and the late percussionist Reebop Kwaakhu Baah (Traffic) helped turn an early version of "Three Hours" into something altogether groovier than the one that appeared on Five Leaves Left. There are lots of compelling moments like these on this album, though, and while not as exhaustive as previous compilations, Magic succeeds at something where others fall short: it sounds like a piece of work Drake himself might have conceived.

While letting a tape run in the studio, the producers found the last song Drake ever recorded. The confident guitar and jaunty feel of "Tow The Line" belie the fact that, by this time, he was suffering in the throes of depression and despair. And although "Tow the Line" may have been the last song Drake recorded, "Clothes Of Sand," a song that never made it onto his first record, Five Leaves Left, but was later included in a box set, reflects best the poignant feeling of loss associated with Nick Drake's short life and career: "So make your way on down to the sea / Something has taken you so far from me."
• Judith Edelman

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