Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left
By Marshall Thorne Wednesday, 17 Jan 2007

Delivering about 40 minutes of stripped down English folk music and named after a phrase that was revealed when 5 rolling papers remained in a pack, F.L.L. was brought to life just as Nick was entering his 20’s. Allready, his best skills were fully developed: strong fingerpicking technique, songwriting, and the use of unconventional guitar tunings (such as BEBEBE, BBDGBE, & EADF#BE).

All of the tracks are live in-studio performances between Nick and a few other musicians. The upright bass from Danny Thompson is constantly a welcome addition, but the rest of the musical production often feels simply adequate. Piano drives the serene closer “Saturday Sun” and appears on the even more stunning “Time Has Told Me”, but never seems to spark much interest on it’s own. And while the strings are beautiful, sometimes they’ll play an akward line or (more often) overpower the acoustic guitar.

The mood can also get a little fruity for me at certain times, with the worst offender being “The Thoughts Of Mary Jane”. Nick has a nice voice, but he sings somewhat high and soft. Ironically, most songs here have really dark lyrics. (He virtually sketches out the sad fate of his life and music on “Fruit Tree”, as he didn’t sell more than a few thousand of each record until 25 years after his death when one of his later songs was featured in a car commercial.)

Although some parts go on for a bit too long, Nick’s guitar playing is an absolute joy to listen to. The song and lyric writing is fairly solid throughout. And to seal the deal on a better than mediocre rating, the album delivers a handful of classics such as “Time has Told Me”, “Saturday Sun”, and the dreamy 5/4 “River Man”.


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