Nick Drake – Bryter Layter (1970)

Over the years, Nick Drake has become somewhat of a cult figure in music and since his untimely death in 1974 has taken on a large following of fans. This in itself is no real surprise, as the man was an unbelievable musical talent who was taken too early. What is more confusing however is why he did not receive the amount of attention, or commercial recognition that he has subsequently gained when he was alive? But that discussion is for another day, and instead I am going to focus on the music that has given this man a cult following by looking at his second studio release Bryter Layter from 1970.   

Bryter Layter is quite different from most of his other work in particular in that it has a full backing band accompanying him, including members of seminal English folk rock group Fairport Convention, and guest appearance by among others ex-Velvet Underground member John Cale. Although Drake continues to showcase the Baroque influenced orchestral arrangements that were seen on his brilliant first album Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter is a more eclectic album that includes jazz influences, and a notably more electric sound than its predecessor. Although his pastoral folk sound complete with acoustic guitar and airy vocals is ever present, this album is more polished and commercially sounding in nature with very good production, especially when it comes to the instrumental arrangements. It is also his most diverse album stylistically encompassing everything from the Baroque influences on “Fly”, folk rock on “Hazey Jane II”, and jazz on “The Chime of The City Clock”, “One Of These Things First”, and “Poor Boy” tracks that include wonderful flourishes of jazz piano, smooth sax parts, and even soulful female backing singers. Such elements are far removed from the dark and spacious acoustic folk sound that appeared on his final studio album Pink Moon, where notably he was only accompanied once by another musician on the opening title track.

The blending of musical styles across this album and intelligent use of backing arrangements highlights well Nick Drakes abilities as a musician, suggesting he was more than just a singer-songwriter. On Bryter Layter we see how he could take other styles of music such as jazz and make them work so well in combination with his own unique acoustic folk style, and in doing so not lose anything musically with the end result still sounding quintessentially Nick Drake.  In fact complex string and piano arrangements lend themselves very well to Drake’s reflective lyrics and soft vocal delivery, allowing his own unique finger picking guitar style and vocals to flow gently over the top of the busy instrumental arrangements without taking the limelight.

Bryter Layter sits very well alongside Nick Drakes other more intense sounding work and is very good on the ear if his more acoustic folk style does not do it for you. It is a very reflective album and one where on listening you can’t help but feel a sense of joy, hopefulness, and warmth things that you often do not feel when listening to Nick Drake’s music. Bryter Layter is a true 1970s underground masterpiece and shows there was another more playful and experimental side to this man’s music.   


– Sam

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