It is generally a good idea to ignore an artist’s biography when considering the art itself. But the sadness in the songs of Nick Drake is only made stronger, more profound, when we learn of the difficulties Drake had in the world. Difficulties that would lead him to take his own life. The songs on the compilation Way to Blue, released in 1994, give off the sense of someone not fit for living in the outside world, but someone still trying to express himself in it.
The songs here come from three albums recorded in the early 70s, obvious with the overuse of strings on some of the songs. Without Nick Drake there would be no ElliottSmith, no Iron and Wine, no Bon Iver. Sure there’s the typical acoustic, singer-songwriter sense from the era, but the breathy vocals, the reflection, set the way for some of the alternative singer-songwriters of today.
Nick Drake was barely known outside of England when he was alive, but with this release he earned a lot of attention in the US. “Pink Moon” appeared in VW commercials, other songs appeared on movie soundtracks, “Northern Sky” was my wedding song. But look to a song like “Black-Eyed Dog” to get a sense that goes deeper than the popular settings around the more familiar songs. Drake’s voice is strained, the guitar sounds like the empty room in which it is played, as he sings “growing old and I wanna go home / growing old and I don’t wanna know.”