Nick Drake - Magic
That a new Nick Drake album is being released is sure to be one of 2004's more surprising releases. Since Drake's death in 1974, his estate, which is largely managed by his sister, the actress Gabrielle Drake, has insisted that the three albums Nick Drake released during his lifetime - Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter and Pink Moon - was almost all that there was. Whilst some songs, such as those from Nick Drake's final sessions in 1974, which included Black Eyed Dog and Rider On The Wheel, were released on Time Of No Reply, there was never a full album release that emptied the archives, at least not until now.
Nick Drake's producer, Joe Boyd, has often said that what remained unreleased was not of such a quality as to find its way to the public and certainly there's something about hearing Made To Love Magic that sounds as though we're party to something we ought not to be. The sparse, unadorned sound of Pink Moon pointed towards Nick Drake never again completing a full album, although with Pink Moon being only twenty-eight minutes long, many would say it was more an EP than an album. Finally, the haunted sound of Black Eyed Dog always looked to be a full stop to Nick's recordings, something that Made To Love Magic questions, with its inclusion of the settled and previously unheard Tow The Line that dates from the same sessions.
A full review will of Made To Love Magic will follow but, leading the album by a week is the release of Magic, Nick Drake's first ever single. Dating from the same sessions that produced Five Leaves Left, Magic was deemed unusable by Nick Drake having been arranged by Richard Hewson but as Drake returned to work with his Cambridge University friend, Robert Kirby, a new arrangement was planned but which remained only on manuscript until last year. Sounding unmistakably like a song lost between the tracks on Bryter Layter, the dense arrangement slips between the oppressive opening seconds and the light birdsong as the chorus is introduced. Whilst never a surprise, Magic has no reason to be as it's simply three minutes of some of the finest English folk available to buy.
That brings us to Northern Sky, included here as a b-side to Magic and arguably Drake's best song. Contrary to the reputation that surrounds Nick Drake - that of being a depressing listen - Northern Sky is a beautiful, lovestruck ballad with such a sweet lyric as to break one's heart to know that he never found peace. With a light, breezy rhythm, Drake sings, "I never felt magic crazy as this" with as perfect a turn into feeling at ease as any that exists on his singing, "But now you're here, brighten my northern sky."
Taken together, Magic and Northern Sky would make a great single but instead of buying this, wait for the release of Made To Love Magic on the 24 May. With that album, it would finally appear as though Nick Drake's legacy is complete and that instead of ending with the haunted sound of Black Eyed Dog, Drake's recordings should end with the more peaceful Tow The Line.