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At last check, Nick Drake is still dead. You can't be blamed for thinking otherwise considering the amount of attention he's received over the past few years. The Volkswagen Cabrio hasn't enjoyed anywhere near the profile of its unintentional song-and-pitch man, whose "Pink Moon," featured in VW's ads, led to unprecedented interest in the songwriter who overdosed on antidepressants November 25, 1974. Drake's three solo albums – Five Leaves Left (1969), Bryter Layter (1970), Pink Moon (1972) – have been reissued and remastered twice. However, the remaining outtakes have been scattered to the wind. 1986's Time of No Reply, the first collection of extraneous material, has not been remastered, and the latest collection to bear the Drake name, Made to Love Magic, contains one unreleased track ("Tow the Line"), two songs reorchestrated in 2003 by original Drake collaborator Robert Kirby ("I Was Made to Love Magic," "Time of No Reply"), four previously unreleased versions of familiar Drake compositions (acoustic "River Man" and "Mayfair," a longer take of "Three Hours," an alternate vocal take of "Hanging on a Star") and remixes of some material first featured on No Reply.

At this rate, we should have a mess of Hendrix-ian proportions on our hands before you can place the ad for a "competent reissue coordinator."

There's no denying Drake's singular genius. He enraptures guitar players with his nimble, unorthodox fingerpicking, stuns songwriters with his gorgeous melodies and suckers anyone with a tragic-romantic streak of melancholia. Collectors of his previous work will want to hear and own these alternate takes, no matter how slight the variations (and they are slight). The one new original, "Tow the Line," is a simple vocal-guitar tune apparently recorded alongside the four other post-Pink Moon songs Drake committed to tape. It's slightly more ragged, with an increased bite in Drake's playing, but no great revelation. Hard-core fans will forever hold out hope for an undiscovered gem as powerful as "Fly" or "Northern Sky," but considering the rudimentary quality of the few worktapes that have come forth on bootlegs, it seems anything that is uncovered will be much like "Tow the Line": intriguing but not essential.

Drake was the complete artist. Musicians who have attempted to reinterpret his music have mostly diminished it, Lucinda Williams and Scott Appel being two noteworthy exceptions.

Poor Boy, a collection of Northwest musicians' interpretations, also fares surprisingly well. Exploiting the jazz, classical and Middle Eastern influences within Drake's work allows most of the contributors to expand on his concepts and avoid the head-on singer-songwriter comparisons. So, Bill Horist and Aiko Shimada immediately catapult "Cello Song" into the clouds that Drake bespeaks. Ian Moore and Eyvind Kang transform "Black Eyed Dog"'s hypnotic riff into an ambient plain. Scales occasionally tip southward: François Houle 6 and Danielle Hebert turn in a National Geographic nature study with "For Nick/Horn/Know" and Robin Holcomb and Veda Hille simply trace Drake ineffectively for "Hanging on a Star" and "Road." But consider these good intentions a brief side trip into a somnambulant funk and not the road to hell it could've been. For the most part, Drake remains intact.

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More by Rob O'Connor


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