Various Artists – “Endless Colorful Roads: The Songs of Nick Drake” (Chrysalis Records)
Nick Drake would have celebrated his 75th birthday this year. To mark the occasion, the 23-track album “The Endless Colored Ways” was released, which takes on the difficult task of reinventing the folk musician’s songs. Works as diverse as John Grant, Fontaines DC, and Aldous Harding are represented on it.
Nick Drake died in 1974 practically unknown; However, in the decades since, his songs have trickled down into pop culture thanks to their use in movies and commercials. Today, Drake is so legendary that traditional covers of his songs are always faced with having to step out of the big shadows. From this point of view, it is a smart idea for Chrysalis Records to commission a cover art compilation containing free releases as far as possible and as far removed from the originals. In this way, new interpretations do not have to withstand so much direct comparison. In fact, the songs’ reinvention on the intended “Endless Colorful Roads” only partially succeeded.
Successful crossovers and new interpretations
Living up to the quest straight into Fontaines DC entry much like Nick Drake, the Irish band have an intense love of lyricism and a sense of ambiguous melancholy that shines through almost all of their work. So it’s no surprise how well Drake’s “Cello Song” fits into Fontaine’s DC soundscape. Their version is a successful crossover that incorporates the plucked guitar and cello of the same name from the original and at the same time combines it with the post-punk drive typical of Fontaine’s DC.
There are also other examples of really interesting reinterpretations about the Endless Colorful Roads, some of which deviate from the originals. Aldous Harding and John Parish, for example, heavily emphasize Nick Drake’s psychedelic tendencies in their version of “Three Hours.” With a staccato beat, they lead the song into the realms of krautrock and psychedelic rock and thus away from its folk origins. Here the idea of \u200b\u200b”renewal” is clearly noticeable. Despite this, Harding and Parish manage to convey the cocky, somewhat cocky quality inherent to Nick Drake’s music in their interpretation.
Easy-to-listen chatter rather than inner turmoil
Nick Drake manages to write songs that are very sophisticated in terms of composition. However, one of his greatest talents was how he conveyed intense emotions and complex moods with almost tangible ease and often in few words. This quality becomes especially evident when you place your songs next to covers that stay musically close to them. Effectively, Ben Harper’s version of “Time Has Told Me” is almost identical to the original. Unlike Nick Drake’s lecture, Harper’s lecture is by no means pretentious or shaky. This causes the song to lose its complexity and suddenly transform into a country rock record.
It gets really uncomfortable when the softness of the original songs is reduced to a simple trumpet. That’s what happened in the version of “Northern Sky” by Scottish folk musicians Karen Bullwart and Chris Drever. In fact, the almost ethereal composition, created at that time in collaboration with John Cale, has become a pleasant, easy-to-listen murmur here, which doesn’t even allow you to guess the song’s break. Unfortunately, these embarrassing versions can be found many times in this compilation. And interpretations that imply radical changes in genre are not always convincing either. American singer Liz Phair stole the song “Free Ride” in cowboy boots on the highway, which results in a rather strange image, which is so far from the original song that one can hardly speak of “reinvention”. It’s a completely different song that just happens to have the same guitar riff.
At the end of the compilation, John Grant shows how one can do justice to one’s musical background and the spirit of the original at the same time. In a version of “Day Is Done” that lasts over six minutes, he emphasizes the text’s existential desperation with near-apocalyptic synth cascades. This may sound overdone quickly, but Grant manages to approach the song with such seriousness and empathy that the mood of the original version is preserved and the version was in good hands on his Pale Green Ghosts album. It’s always worth hearing about the “endless colorful roads” of such gems. The sampler also allows you to discover an array of artists from a wide variety of genres and generations that you might not have noticed otherwise. The best way to understand the compilation is as a call-to-action with Nick Drake’s varied, poetic and unfortunately so many very young works.
Release date: July 7, 2023
Label: Chrysalis Records
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