Jul 072023

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Nick Drake Bryter Later
There is a definite feel that the songwriting talents of Nick Drake, so overlooked and undervalued in his all-too-brief lifetime, are again coming back around into view. Suddenly a host of newer and younger artists are covering his work, like Josienne Clark and Valerie June. Plus, there is today’s release of a new tribute album, The Endless Coloured Ways, featuring artists as varied as Fontaines D.C. and Let’s Eat Grandma. So, having featured full-album posts with his first, Five Leaves Left, and last, Pink Moon, surely the time has come for us to complete his triad of albums in this series.

Bryter Layter has always seemed the most substantial of Drake’s holy trinity, perhaps down to the lush orchestrations of Robert Kirby and the stellar rhythm section of the Fairport duo, Daves Pegg and Mattacks. The latter pair were also the de facto core of the Island records house band of that time, the Oxfordshire Sly and Robbie, appearing on records by artists as diverse as John Martyn and Murray Head. True, Kirby also adorned Five Leaves Later, but with Danny Thompson’s (no less splendid) acoustic bass that time around, it was all a little more pastoral, with the difference rendering this disc with that little bit more drive and grit. Which, admittedly, are words people don’t tend to use too frequently around the maudlin and whimsical canon of Nick Drake.

Bryter Layter first came out in 1971, produced, as always, by Joe Boyd, a man who has continued to keep the flame of Drake alive, even ahead of latter recognition and accolade. But, like Five Leaves Left before, it sank like a stone, even if critics were beginning to find decent things to say. How sad that it took Nick Drake’s death, and the repercussions of that on his peers and acolytes, to get his name up in lights so many decades on. There have been other tribute albums in his memory: 1992’s Brittle Days, for instance, and 2013’s Way To Blue, the latter curated by Boyd, and I dare say there will be more. But today, in honor of the newest one, let’s make up one of our own.

Christopher O’Riley – Introduction (Nick Drake cover)

The sumptuous instrumental prologue to the album, all fingerpicked guitar and the swoony string arrangement of Robert Kirby, gets an elongated piano outing here, doubling the length of the piece. Christopher O’Riley is quite the modern classical musician, appreciating the worth in looking outside the sometime narrow confines of his chosen genre, getting as much acclaim for his recordings of the music of Radiohead and of Elliott Smith as he has for that of good old Johann Sebastian Bach. This comes from his album of Nick Drake compositions, Second Grace, released in 2007.

Jake Bugg – Hazey Jane II (Nick Drake cover)

This Jake Bugg guy is sorta famous now, I understand, but this version, only a short step above bedroom gurner quality, is actually kinda cute. This stems from about a decade ago, when Bugg was still a young and fresh-faced new name. Albeit a new name with a debut album crashing the top of the UK album charts. Played simple, there is none of the slightly cheesy and somewhat dated Tijuana styled brass that marks the original, and I like the way he crowds the lyrics. A bit grittier, vocally, than Drake, it is good to see from where he was taking his inspirations. I wonder whatever happened to him? (I jest, he now having a handful of largely well-received albums under his belt.)

Jesper Kviberg Social Club of Music – At the Chime of a City Clock (Nick Drake cover)

Drake had an inherent jazz feeling in his compositional gamut, and on his cover of “At the Chime of a City Clock,” Jesper Kviberg picks that up and runs with it. Nothing modern and nothing fusion-y to frighten the horses here, it has all the debatable charm of Blood, Sweat and Tears, but after David Clayton-Thomas had cleared his throat. Great drums, Hammond and electric piano, while the brass section make hay in parp heaven. Kviberg is the drummer in a big band leader from Sweden (perhaps explaining the drums’ prominence in the mix), and this comes from his 2010 album Straight From the Soul.

Susanna Hoffs – One of These Things First (Nick Drake cover)

Susanna Hoffs is a regular in these pages, such is her penchant for cover versions, whether alone or with erstwhile partner in crime, Matthew Sweet. Her take on “One of These Things First” arguably adds little to the original, apart, that is, from her honeyed vocal. But listen to it closely–she has given it a whole different coloring from Drake’s own. The arrangement sounds more akin to even earlier Drake, with the lyrical standup bass, and the piano being also a little less busy. You could say it sounds more Drake than his own version does, and that’s quite clever. It comes from her 2021 digital-only release Bright Lights. The band, btw, is only The Section, that crack team of Leland Sklar, Danny Kortchmar, Russ Kunkel et al!

Morten Langrind – Hazey Jane I (Nick Drake cover)

It tends to be the guitar motif in “Hazey Jane I” that gets the heads a-spinning, rather than the actual song, YouTube awash with often vainglorious bedroom efforts to replicate it. Actual full professional covers are few, but I rather like this one. Eschewing the strings cascading about the vocal, this has a woozier and more psychedelic feel, with the guitarist being just a touch heavier of hand, straying otherwise little from the template originally offered. And then, as the Floydian electric kicks in, and stays, it seems as if it may be an instrumental. But the vocals do arrive, and they too sound a tad stoned, the keyboards motif an attractive background loop, which dips in and out. The guitarist, from what I can gather, is Morten Langrand from Norway, with Erik Almthen Martinsen possibly the singer.

Lewis D. Lancaster – Bryter Layter (Nick Drake cover)

Another instrumental, also the title track, and, bar good old Christopher O’Riley (above, “Introduction”), it has had few commercial covers. So it was something to find Lewis D. Lancaster’s stripped-back solo guitar version. Even if a homemade recording, it’s made well, the FX on the visual quite enticing. Am I allowed to prefer it to the original, where Lancaster’s less coups just so much more? He has a stack of videos on his own YouTube channel, usually replicating the work of just about every UK acoustic guitar master you can shake a stick at. He’s good!

Kristin Hersh – Fly (Nick Drake cover)

Sounding as fragile as a flawed crystal, Kristin Hersh offers up a version that hinges hard on the cusp between knowing and impossibly naive. It is almost a surprise to go back to the original, to see that Hersh has actually been quite faithful, the skeleton of the song in the same species, it being the flesh where she tweaks out a greater sense of despair. Drake sounds odd in his own iteration, as if straining at the notes. Hersh doesn’t try, making for greater nuance. From the quirky Wes Anderson tribute I Saved Latin, a tribute to the songs chosen by the filmmaker for his films. “Fly” memorably colors the scene after Richie’s failed suicide in The Royal Tenenbaums.

Slow Dancer feat. Angie McMahon – Poor Boy (Nick Drake cover)

Slow Dancer are the band of one Simon Okely, who is an Australian, and clearly indebted to falteringly sung confessional artists of the ’60s and ’70s. Drake fits that bill to a T, and, for this cranked-up cover, he is joined, deep in the mix, by McMahon, a country singer from the Aussie outback, last seen on the all-female tribute to Tom Waits in days of yore. Her contribution here seems mainly of backing vocals, scarcely worth the additional notification, but it drew me in, and I’m glad that I made the effort. The spiky and trebly guitar and the steady backbeat give the bossa nova stylings of the original a miss, and it becomes a totally different song.

Maximo Park – Northern Sky (Nick Drake cover)

It is always a shock to appreciate quite how good are some of the singers in bands you have always assumed to be just another routine outflow pipe of landfill indie. Paul Smith of Maximo Park is one such singer. His recent work with Rachel Unthank (which includes covers) has forced me to re-evaluate and assess their output. Without that I wouldn’t have looked at this surprisingly sensitive version of “Northern Sky,” one of Drake’s most iconic songs. No fluffs or frills, Smith just sings it straight, wistful cracks cutting across his croon. A truly lovely version. What else can he do? Even before I listen to the band’s own songs, Secondhand Songs tell me they have a fair few covers under their belts, encompassing The Proclaimers and The Fall to Mazzy Star and Leonard Cohen. Could be worth an explore.

Sam Lynch – Sunday (Nick Drake cover)

Whose bloody idea was it to have three blimming instrumentals on a singer-songwriter album, hmm? Fair messes with my job here. Much as I would love to unveil a trumpet solo “Sunday,” or a full zydeco gris-gris version, I am afraid not. If there are such, they haven’t alerted either you or tube. But this is an elegant, again, solo guitar version. Given Nick Drake is as much remembered for his guitar techniques and tunings, it’s good to hear the tune without the flute that, sorry, somewhat swamps the original. So who Sam Lynch? Another YouTube channel warrior, he also has a nice line in addressing the established greats of acoustic guitar, but also dips into more esoteric material encompassing Sun Til Moon and Jon Brion.

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  One Response to “Full Albums: Nick Drake’s ‘Bryter Layter’”

Comments (1)
  1. As much I am enjoying exploring “The Endless Coloured Ways,” I very much prefer this compilation. These covers are done with respect and reverence and although the direction given to the “The Endless Coloured Ways” artists was to make the songs their own, these versions are much closer to the originals and that is okay. Thank you for your timely share.

    Having said that, your listeners really should check out the Katherine Priddy (‘I Think They’re Leaving Me Behind’) and Aldous Harding/John Parish (‘Three Hours’) covers on “The Endless Coloured Ways.”

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