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Five Leaves Left
Antillies AN 7010 (1976)

Album available as:-
(Island CID 9195)

A reissue of Island ILPS 9105

All smokers will recognise the meaning of the title - it refers to the five leaves left near the end of a packet of cigarette papers. It sounds poetic and so does composer, singer and guitarist Nick Drake. His debut album for Island is interesting.

- Melody Maker 26/07/69 (author unknown).

This is the most richly gloomy music I can recall since Nico's Chelsea Girls. Spooky and pungent, it provides great atmosphere to dice tannis roots by. On this 1969 album, Drake was exploring the romance of decay well before deco-dence became pop. It's so autumnal that he could have used dead leaves and falling twilight as percussion.

With the endorsements of John Cale and John Martyn among others, Drake is something of a legend, and Bruce Malamut's liner notes for this re-release are intriguing. (The album title denotes the near-emptiness of a pack of rolling papers.) Drake is most easily classified as an acoustic folk-jazz artist, and his steel-string guitar playing has some of the North Sea flavour of Donovan's Fairy Tale album. But Donovan's strongest suit was the traditional ballad style, while the introspective Drake was a bewitched impressionist for whom an intuited poetic mood was more important than narrative sense: "Betty said she'd pray today/For the sky to blow away."

Drake's reflective delicacies have a rustic, handcrafted quality to them. They're produced with a stark clarity, almost with the exactness of chamber music, and are highlighted by lovely, eddying, vinegary string arrangements. His most affecting instrument though is his voice - a ruminative, dusky baritone that's deceptively gentle.

Five Leaves Left is a marvel of self-indulgent, refined malaise (perfect for Bennington frosh who sip absinthe) and creates a seductive, intimate universe. It is also nearly devoid of the hope and resolve by which people strive to live on this planet. Rather, Drake offers the weary strength of someone too familair with life's battles, the comforting peace that passeth all understanding. 'The Thoughts Of Mary Jane' is an affectionate appreciation of a lively young thing, and 'Saturday Sun' evokes a lolling contentedness, but even these relatively pleasant songs are tranquil musings, detached and passive. More characteristic are the achingly poignant 'River Man', 'Way To Blue' and 'Day Is Done'.
Perhaps Nick Drake was a little too much in love with ghosts. He died in 1974, an apparent suicide at the age of 26 - yet another brilliant romantic poet whose phantom wisdom still whispers quietly from the grave.

- Stephen Demorest, Circus Magazine, 01/77.

It's little wonder why Drake felt frustrated at the lack of commercial success his music initially gathered, considering the help he had on his debut record. Besides fine production from Joe Boyd and assistance from folks like Fairport Convention's Richard Thompson and his unrelated bass counterpart from Pentangle, Danny Thompson, Drake also recruited school friend Robert Kirby to create most of the just-right string and wind arrangements. His own performance itself steered a careful balance between too-easy accessibility and maudlin self-reflection, combining the best of both worlds while avoiding the pitfalls on either side. The result was a fantastic debut appearance, and if the cult of Drake consistently reads more into his work than is perhaps deserved, Five Leaves Left is still a most successful effort. Having grown out of the amiable but derivative styles captured on the long-circulating series of bootleg home recordings, Drake assays his tunes with just enough drama - world-weariness in the vocals, carefully paced playing, and more - to make it all work. His lyrics capture a subtle poetry of emotion, as on the pastoral semi-fantasia of "The Thoughts of Mary Jane," which his soft, articulate singing brings even more to the full. Sometimes he projects a little more clearly, as on the astonishing voice-and-strings combination "Way to Blue," while elsewhere he's not so clear, suggesting rather than outlining the mood. Understatement is the key to his songs and performances' general success, which makes the combination of his vocals and Rocky Dzidzornu's congas on "Three Hours" and the lovely "'Cello Song," to name two instances, so effective. Danny Thompson is the most regular side performer on the album, his bass work providing subtle heft while never standing in the way of the song - kudos well deserved for Boyd's production as well.

- Ned Raggett (AMG)

Track Listing:

1. Time Has Told Me (Drake) - 4:27
(Interpretation by Tony Reif)
2. River Man (Drake) - 4:21
(Music review by Iain Cameron)
3. Three Hours (Drake) - 6:16
(Joe Boyd's comments)
4. Way to Blue (Drake) - 3:11
5. Day Is Done (Drake) - 2:29
6. Cello Song (Drake) - 4:49
7. The Thoughts of Mary Jane (Drake) - 3:22
8. Man in a Shed (Drake) - 3:55
9. Fruit Tree (Drake) - 4:50
10. Saturday Sun (Drake) - 4:03

Nick Drake - Guitar, Vocals
Danny Thompson - Double Bass
Richard Thompson - Lead Guitar
Rocki Dzidzornu - Congos
Clare Lowter - Cello on Track 6
Paul Harris - Piano on Tracks 8, 10
Trsitam Fry - Drums, Vibraphone on Track 10






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