Nick Drake in 5.1 Surround? Who knew?

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When I come across discs like this I sometimes feel that the music industry deserves every drop of blood it drips from effectively shooting itself in the foot. Here, I found a really nice collection of Nick Drake recordings on SACD with the bare minimum indication that there are 5.1 surround mixes contained inside. And when you get inside to the liner notes there is virtually no mention of the surround mix apart from one passing credit to the mixer. Why spend all that money on doing the surround mix and then not really tout its wonders to the buying public? Honestly, I could give these folks a lesson in basic marketing and format promotion if they were willing to hire me (hello music industry!)


So its little wonder I never heard of this disc even existing before finding it in Fry's -- of all places! -- a couple weeks ago. I suspect you never heard about this release. And that is a shame because it is really quite nice, if a bit erratic. Some songs make good use of the surrounds and others, not so much; I suspect this has more to do with the relatively primitive nature of the recordings than for lack of desire.


Opening track "Introduction" (from Bryter Later) has a nice surround feel, with strings appearing in the rear surrounds. Simple, but immersive and very lush sounding. "River Man, "on the other hand uses the surrounds to fill up the room with Drake's warmly yearning vocals. "Cello Song" is all about room ambiance while "Hazy Jane 1" blends acoustic guitar and strings with (again) a big vocal immersion sound. "Pink Moon" is stereo mostly until the piano comes in from rear while Magic envelops you in those lush string sections. "Northern Sky" keeps the band mostly in stereo and fills room with Nick's vocals. 


"Way To Blue," which could be a prototype for some of Elvis Costello's The Juliet Letters, keeps the strings in stereo and puts vocal in room


And the album goes on this way.  


Is it a perfect or complete collection? Probably not. Is it one that is worth owning? Absolutely as it contains many great songs and makes for a nice end-to-end listening experience.


Oh,what's that you say? You aren't familiar with Nick Drake's music and are wondering what he sounds like? 


Well, fans of modern alternative rock band Sebadoh might be surprised to find that Nick Drake's voice -- and sometimes haunting pop miniature styled songwriting -- sounds a bit like a Great Uncle to the solo material by lead singer Lou Barlow. Were you ever a fan of Nico's classic first solo album from 1967, Chelsea Girls? Nick Drake sounds quite a bit like a male continuation of that great mood Nico created on that album and the title track especially.


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Drake also sounds like an even mellower fellow than the sunshine superman himself, Donovan. If you like Van Morrison's jazzier and more otherworldly excursions (such as Astral Weeks) you might enjoy Nick Drake. If you were ever a fan of John Sebastian and The Lovin' Spoonful, Drake may tickle your fancy. Are you a fan of The Zombies' Odyssey and Oracle as well as the early solo album by lead singer Colin Blunstone? You might well like Nick Drake then. 


Did you ever like Harry Chapin's cello-woven folk-pop tales? Nick Drake may then be your new taxi.


I could go on. I think you get the idea.


You should get this album. If not for its at times lovely surround mixes, then at minimum to have some sweet Nick Drake music in your collection. You can get it up on Amazon for around $12 new. Hey, that is even cheaper than I paid for it! 


Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com.  He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written: www.dialthemusical.com. 

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