Live tribute album brings Drake back to vivid life

Published 12:45 pm Sunday, April 21, 2013

As a Nick Drake fan, my first reaction was to hate the first full tribute album of the musician’s music. But it’s true that tribute albums walk a fine line.

“Way To Blue: The Songs of Nick Drake” brings Drake’s music back to life via a collection of somewhat unknown musicians. Drake’s original producer Joe Boyd produced a tribute album for the English singer/song-writer who died at age 26 of either an accidental overdose or suicide — depending on who you believe.

Drake died in 1974 as a failed musician. He was unknown, and his first three albums failed to sell, but the singer’s popularity has gradually bloomed to the point that Drake is now a well-known name and has influenced many other musicians.

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Boyd, who produced Drake’s three albums — “Five Leaves Left,” “Bryter Layter” and “Pink Moon” — has long talked about making a tribute album of Drake’s songs, and has garnered interest from big-name musicians. But, he didn’t want the tracks to be recorded separately and sent to him.

Boyd wanted to chose the musicians and record the entire album at once. That didn’t work either. In the end, Boyd gathered a group of lesser-known musicians and performed 15 concerts of Drake’s music — mostly in the U.K.

The album is taken from highlights of the New York and London concerts and include a few of the musicians who recorded with Drake in the 1970s.

Like I said, I didn’t like the album at first. As a Drake fan, I know it’s easy to form a deep tie to Drake’s music, especially knowing the story of his life.

But, the songs are performed with grace and precision, and must have been stunning for the people who attended the concerts.

For Drake fans, this is basically one of the first and only chances people have had to hear the songs live. Before his death in 1974, Drake suffered from depression and social anxiety, so he rarely performed live or promoted his albums during his lifetime. Any live recordings of his music are poor quality, and it’s clear how timid Drake was as a performer.

Boyd’s concert’s brought the music back to the stage with talented musicians in a way that has never been possible — not to mention at a time when Drake’s music is as popular as ever. It’s fitting that Boyd avoided using big-name acts, as it may very well have felt cheapened, since Drake died an unknown.

As a live rendition of the songs, the album is a fitting tribute to a talented but tragic musician’s body of work. But as an album, the musicians stretch at times to match the sentimental feelings many have for Drake’s music and story.

It seems Green Gartside is trying a bit too hard to capture Drake’s spirit on his rendition of “Fruit Tree,” but he recovers once he seems to settle into the song. Songs off the sparse and simple “Pink Moon” — which featured almost exclusively Drake alone with an acoustic guitar — feel a bit weighed down by an abundance of musicians.

One of the best performers is the up-and-coming band Luluc. The duo plays on “Things Behind the Sun” and “Fly,” where singer Zoe avoids over-singing the tracks.

The album probably isn’t the best introduction to Drake, but it’s clear the performers have a deep appreciation of the music. For fans, it’s a way to sit back and reminisce about a great, but brief career.