Much like his tragically short life, Nick Drake's music was defined by a beauty that was always entangled with bittersweet sadness. Though he only lived to see 26, the all too tiny body of work he left behind was enough to move and mystify generations of listeners. As it often is with the work of those who were ahead of their time and left the mortal plane too soon, we're left poring over Drake's slight discography, wondering where his enchanting melancholia came from and how it grew into some of the most plainspoken and beautiful songwriting of his day and beyond. This collection of home-recorded songs by Molly Drake, mother of Nick and writer of her own private, secluded songs, offers another perspective on where Nick might have developed his songwriting voice. Recorded at home to a rudimentary tape setup during the 1950s, the 19 songs here feature solely Molly's soft but strong vocals and spare piano accompaniment. Her poetic lyrics are sometimes storytelling, sometimes nostalgic, and other times more vague, but even at their most lighthearted are touched by a somber tone of despair. Songs like "Poor Mum" and "I Remember" foreshadow the dour softness that Nick Drake would sculpt in his most minimal songs on Pink Moon. Elsewhere, songs like "How Wild the Wind Blows" have a more chilling effect, with a brittle lo-fi recording quality and the sound of church bells and birds in the background melding with Molly's frail vocals, resulting in a haunting, restless feeling. Most of these songs are shorter, often clocking in at less than two minutes, but wrapping up her foreboding sentiments and nostalgic reminiscences with blunt conciseness. While not quite holding the warmth or approachability of other "unearthed" recordings of its ilk, this compilation is essential listening for anyone who's ever been fascinated with Nick Drake's impenetrable, gorgeous sadness. Sitting down with the entire album sheds light on the direct line from Molly Drake's isolated and heavy-hearted music to the songs her son would make, steeped in her quiet, almost invisible influence.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas