Melancholy from the grave: Nick Drake.
Melancholy from the grave: Nick Drake.

Nick Drake

Few artists have epitomized death as a career move as well as Nick Drake. In the 30 years since his demise at age 26 from an overdose of antidepressants (the jury's still out on whether it was accidental or suicide), the honey-voiced, fatalistic British folkie has attained mythic stature, directly influenced countless musicians, moved more units than he ever did during his lifetime, and even helped sell a few Volkswagens -- all on the strength of just three (albeit stunningly great) albums recorded between 1969 and 1972.

And so, like more recent departees Jeff Buckley and Tupac Shakur, there's been no shortage of attempts to repackage old songs and dig up new recordings. The latest such compendium, the 13-track Made to Love Magic, boasts only one entirely unheard tune, "Tow the Line," said to be the very last song Drake ever recorded, and a surprisingly upbeat number given his mental state at his life's end. Several tracks are remastered versions of previously unearthed gems that appeared on the 1986 release Time of No Reply; there are also beautifully sparse, demo-type versions of "Hanging on a Star" and "River Man," and a conga-driven "Three Hours."

The set isn't without a bit of controversy, however: Robert Kirby, Drake's old Cambridge roommate and arranger, merged his newly recorded orchestral backgrounds with vocals digitally lifted from the singer's originals for updated takes on "Magic" and "Time of No Reply." But let the purists cringe if they want to -- the results are undeniably moving, as is the whole of this indispensable album for Nick Drake junkies and newbies alike.


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