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Five Leaves Left – Nick Drake

Nick Drakes Five Leaves Left

Five Leaves Left

(1969), 9/10
Five Leaves Left is my least favourite of Drake’s three studio albums, but it’s still a gorgeous and mystical near-masterpiece. Drake and his acoustic guitar are the centrepiece, but he does enjoy various accompaniments, with strings and with members of Pentangle and Fairport Convention. Drake accompanies himself on piano on ‘Saturday Sun’, while ‘Way To Blue’ drops Drake’s guitar altogether and just leaves the strings.

Favourites include the moody ‘Riverman’ and the subtle jazzy groove of ‘Man In A Shed’. Drake’s lyrics are beautifully innocent and effortless in a way that an intellectual like Paul Simon could never hope to achieve: “Betty said she prayed today/For the sky to blow away/Or maybe stay/She wasn’t sure” reads a couplet in ‘River Man’. But musically Five Leaves Left is actually a difficult album to decode – it’s much more complex and nuanced than you’d expect from a folk-based artist, with alternate guitar tunings and complex strings – after plenty of listens, there’s always something new to discover.

The album’s title was grimly prophetic; five leaves (years, if we’re going to be literal) later Drake accidentally overdosed on sleeping pills, only leaving two further albums for an almost flawless recorded legacy.

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