Underappreciated Musician: Nick Drake

This week’s featured musician played acoustic folk music with strange tunings and unique song structures. During his lifetime, nobody liked it.

Nick Drake wasn’t a wannabe “tortured artist.” Rather, he truly lived it. He had social issues. He had few friends. He was clinically depressed and took meds for it. His albums didn’t sell. Much of his life and personality remains a mystery. He died early.

But somehow, despite the darkness with which he lived, he was able to tap into a creative reservoir and release 3 haunting, unique, ethereal, and quietly powerful albums from 1969-1972.

Drake employed a masterful fingerpicking guitar style and experimented with bizarre, original tunings (BEBEBE, anyone?). He combined that with a silky, vibrato-free vocal delivery that fit perfectly with the mood of his guitar playing. He was also never bound to 4/4 timing or verse-chorus-verse song structure. Instead, he let the songs themselves dictate which direction they went, freeing himself up creatively.

It’s a shame he wasn’t around when his work began to get rediscovered by artists and critics, who came to appreciate his originality and intricate musicianship. It wasn’t until 2004, 30 years after his death, that a couple of his songs landed on the charts thanks to a compilation of studio outtakes.

Check out “Things Behind the Sun,” probably my favorite track of his (and feel free to ignore the video):

And here’s another one, “Day is Done,” which shows off some awesome fingerpicking and unique songwriting:

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2 responses to “Underappreciated Musician: Nick Drake

  1. Thanks for the excellent piece, Dana. Glad you picked up on his guitar technique and style, something that has been largely overlooked. Things Behind the Sun is also my favourite, for the very reason you have outlined – the balance between voice and guitar is about as good as it gets.

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