I personally discovered Nick Drake just as he was having his first sort of public re-discovering, when the Fruit Tree box set was released and his set of wonderful albums found their way into the collections of fans all over. Of course, a second re-discovery of his music would come later on, via inclusion of his song "Pink Moon" in a popular car commercial, and even during this phase only the original albums remained, with various hissy bootlegs floating around where serious fans could find them. Many of those long-passed recordings (along with many others) have now found a home on Family Tree, a rough but sometimes very engaging batch of songs that paint a picture of the young artist in the music-rich surroundings of his family.
There are twenty-eight tracks on the release, which include everything from short instrumental sketches, recordings of talking, and covers of everything from traditional to Bob Dylan songs along with original tracks by Drake himself. As can be expected, it's pretty rough most of the time, but there are also some beautiful little gems that can be pulled from it as well. Songs like "They're Leaving Me Behind" and "Rain" are both perfect examples, working as slightly more rough versions of songs that he would later hone so perfectly on his actual releases as his nimble acoustic guitar playing mingles with his warm vocals with both slightly uplifting and melancholy shifts.
In other places, Family Tree truly lives up to its namesake. His mother Molly sings the sad "Poor Mum," one of the more depressing songs about motherhood I've ever heard, while his sister Gabrielle joins him for harmony vocals on the short rendition of the traditional song "All My Trials." As mentioned above, many of the covers on the release inform the listener as to the influences that were at work on Drake as he developed his own work. There are some fairly straightforward renditions of blues tracks, including "Cocaine Blues" (which includes a rather unique pronunciation of 'cocaine'), "Black Mountain Blues," and Jackson Frank's "Blues Run The Game."
There's also the aforementioned cover of Dylan's "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" along with several other bluesy tracks and several other short sketches that don't really offer up much. One of the other highlights, though, is the early version of "Way To Blue," with Drake on piano and vocals, somehow making the already glum track feel even more depressing. Considering the rather random and largely rough quality of the long release (which runs over seventy minutes), this large batch of tracks seems like it's mainly aimed at the more serious fans of Nick Drake (ie fans who bought his album based on a car commercial will probably wonder why this one sounds so gritty). If you're a completist, or someone who's interested in finding a bit more insight about his music itself, it's a nice little curiosity. Otherwise, you might want to just go back and replay his other four albums again.