Decades after his death Nick Drake ploughs on. After several years as a cult artist he was given a posthumous push courtesy of, of all things, a car ad. Alongside a relentless reissue programme that recycled and recollected his small oeuvre, by the mid 2000’s he was a hip name to drop with the value of the original vinyl albums on sites such as Ebay soaring. Thus it was that his sublime, fragile and unique songs found a new audience and influenced a new generation of artists and this album showcases a selection of his peers and new found followers celebrating him.
Way To Blue captures concerts in London and Melbourne that were curated by Drake’s chief torch bearer, Joe Boyd, a legend himself who has produced so many influential albums over the years. Boyd had long toyed with the idea of a tribute to Drake and eventually the idea came to fruition with a moveable feast that over several years performed fifteen shows. Boyd selected the artists stating “Selecting singers has been one of the most rewarding parts of this exercise. One criterion was that none of them should sound like Nick.” With a core band featuring the legendary (sorry about so many legends here but this is deserved) bassist Danny Thompson ( a man who played with Drake, Martyn, Buckley and Jansch, part of his legend), Zoe Rahman on piano and drummer Martyn Barker, alongside a string section with Kate St. John managing Robert Kirby’s arrangements Drake’s sound is effortlessly captured in a live setting.
There are 15 songs, all by Drake, interpreted by a fine line up of singers. Their various takes on the originals adds a to the album. Some are reverential, cleaving to the blueprint, others take off on a tangent imposing the interpreter’s viewpoint. Of these the most successful is Lisa Hannigan’s Black Eyed Dog which transforms the song into a vibrant sea shanty while retaining the original angst of the song. Vashti Bunyon, alongside Thompson the one performer who knew Drake, offers a fragile take on Which Will which perhaps comes closest to most folks vision of Drake as a wounded troubadour. However all of the performances have merit with Australian Zoe Rendell capturing Drake’s vocal mannerism’s excellently while Krystle Warren adds a gospel touch on her offering. While Teddy Thomson, Shane Nicholson and Scott Matthews all pass muster the listener is perhaps more intrigued to hear Green Gartside’s (of Scritti Politti) version of Fruit Tree which he delivers delicately with his reedy voice surrounded by sumptuous strings and Robyn Hitchcock’s Parasite , a wonderful, spectral and spooky offering. Both of these are excellent with the Hitchcock song the standout on the album, a pity he has only the one opportunity to shine.
For a live album the sound is excellent and there is no audience applause throughout allowing one to wallow in the songs without interruption. A great document of what is a fine enterprise from Mr. Boyd, always striving to keep Drake’s memory alive which is what this disc does.