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Bryter Layter
Nick Drake

Hannibal NCD 4435
Released: 1970

Nick DrakeNick Drake was not just another professionally introspective singer-songwriter. Before his early death (by suicide, I think) in 1974, he made three strange, lovely albums for Island Records that garnered him an intensely devoted cult-following that persists to this day. Bryter Layter is a rerelease of one of those albums.

Although Drake was the type of artist given to disappearing in the middle of a recording session and turning up days later registered under a pseudonym in some fleabag hotel, his actions were not concocted for the sake of a marketable image, nor was he given to parading his neuroses and private pains through the tracks of his records à la Dory Previn. There is an elusive, almost ethereal quality both to Drake's lyrics and to his whole compositional and vocal style. You're not always sure exactly what he's driving at -- you're not even sure he always knows -- but in his swirling melodies and softly slurred lyrics there is a beauty and depth of feeling that transcend the usual banality of the singer-songwriter tribe. There is something ghostly about Drake's songs, a familiarity with other vistas we may be fortunate in not perceiving. He may not have been a genius and this album may be a little too emotionally reticent (though not dishonest or soulless) for some tastes, but three years after his death, when prefab dementia has become a major commodity, Nick Drake's reality is more compelling than ever.

- Lester Bangs, Stereo Review, 12/77.

Bonus Reviews!

Stephen Holden described Drake's songs as "narcotic," Sam Sutherland described his singing as "a murmur of smoke and velvet," Bruce Malamut described him as "the John Coltrane of folk singers," and John Cale (who plays viola, harpsichord, celeste organ, and piano on Bryter Layter) acknowledged Drake's inspiration in the creation of his own classic Paris 1919. Drake's fluid lyrical/musical images are reminiscent of a river-shaping rock. He carves shimmering moments in time. He leaves magical tracks on the soul. Yet it's all done with breathy simplicity and understated, elegant instrumentation. Like his first album Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter is a journey into a unique, enchanting space. While it's difficult to isolate a single selection from his mesmerizing few recordings, "Northern Sky," included on Bryter Layter, may well represent the fullest realization of his special talent. The sound quality of this disc, particularly considering its vintage, is first-rate. A+

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

While the strings on Nick Drake's second album are more prominent, they rarely take away from the impact of his music, which significantly less sad on this record. However, Bryter Layter isn't lighthearted -- it's a reflective piece of music that gains power from its own introspection. * * * *

- Stephen Thomas Erlewine , The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Even with the lush background of Robert Kirby's string arrangements, the delicate power of Drake's acoustic guitar rings through. The jazzy "One of These Things First" and "At the Chime of the City Clock" share space with haunting instrumentals and emotionally intense love songs such as "Northern Sky." * * * * 1/2

- Brian Escamilla, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

The cover reveals a thin young man slumped over an acoustic guitar, his face partially shadowed by long hair. Somewhat unexpectedly, mauve (almost blue) brothel creepers sit at his feet. For such a private person, Nick Drake's Bryter Layter is surprisingly expansive. Robert Kirby's superb arrangements build on Drake's fragile vocals and exquisite guitar playing to create a richly rewarding album. The jazzy guitar chords, skipping piano and restless sax of "Poor Boy" distract the ear from the self-reflective tone of the lyrics, helped by the gently mocking gospel-style backing vocals. The lush string arrangements -- notably on "At The Chime Of A City Clock" and "Hazey Jane I" -- create an autumnal mood. John Cale's viola and harpsichord give "Fly" an almost classical feel, while on "Northern Sky," Cale's cool organ and sparkling celesta are magical. Drake's wistful, very English vocals contrast with his strong, versatile guitar playing. Over thirty years after its release, Bryter Layter remains an album of haunting beauty and startling originality. So much so that Drake and this album are classed by many songwriters as a seminal influence.

- Collins Gem Classic Albums, 1999.

A sad guy's happiest album, this second more uptempo effort from the late British singer-songwriter-cum-cult figure gives lie to those who call Drake a miserablist. A lovely poetic work of pastoral, transcendent chamber-folk, this influential disc features members of Fairport Convention, including Richard Thompson, and brings together a touch of jazz and a dash of pop in swirling, spellbinding, lush settings -- it's perfect to chill to. * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

Compared to the British folkie's other records, Nick Drake's second album could almost be called upbeat. Almost. With John Cale, Richard Thompson and other members of Fairport Convention assisting him, Drake jazzes up the arrangements on songs such as "Poor Boy" but leaves his voice stark and fragile.

Bryter Layter was chosen as the 245th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

Lying at the emotional midway point between his wistful debut Five Leaves Left (1969) and the broken, despondent Pink Moon (1972), Bryter Later found Nick Drake in fine form, something that his bleak myth now overshadows. This was just his second album, nothing more. Bruised by the indifference that met Five Leaves Left, he simply tried again.

On Five Leaves Left it was primarily Drake's guitar or Robert Kirby's orchestrations in the forground; now it was the core of Fairport Convention. Reprising his role on the first album, guitarist Richard Thompson roped in bassist Dave Pegg and drummer Dave Mattacks, while John Cale provided both piano both piano and celeste. Even a saxophone appears on "At The Chime Of A City Clock." While his hushed vocals were a constant factor in all of his albums, this was the closest Drake came to being in a rock band.

The album's relatively playful mood is at odds with legend. The jazzy "Poor Boy" seemed to poke fun at Drake's own melancholy, while it is impossible to detect anything other than sunlight in the opening instrumental "Introduction." Moreover, "Northern Sky" is simply too beautiful to have been written by someone who was indifferent to life. Only the weary "One Of These Things First" and the faintly unsettling "Fly" suggest the slow deterioration of Drake's emotional state.

Bryter Later documents a time when Drake was disappointed but not yet disheartened by his lack of success. It is an ideal introduction to his music.

- Mark Bennett, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

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