Christopher O'Riley 

Second Grace: The Music of Nick Drake

Snobs yell "sellout," inclusive types praise him as a cultural ambassador — British pianist O'Riley has taken it upon himself to interpret contemporary rock in a European classical context, with songs arranged for unaccompanied recitals. ("Heresy!" elitists cry, forgetting that several classical composers — pre- and post-20th century — drew inspiration from pop tunes of their eras.) To date, O'Riley has "reimagined" Radiohead and Elliott Smith; 2007 finds him surveying the catalogue of late iconic folk-pop songster Nick Drake. The melodious directness and simplicity of Drake's music and O'Riley's sparkling technique and rhapsodic approach make for an ideal matchup — almost. Much of Second Grace is very pretty, at times beautiful, but O'Riley doesn't embrace more of the intensely brooding, almost foreboding aspects of Drake's music. (His third and final album Pink Moon gives Neil Young Tonight's the Night a run for its money with regard to harrowing atmosphere.) Sometimes this set slips into easygoing background sound, excepting the emotional gravity of final tracks "Three Hours" and "From the Morning." "Hours" is spare and delicately dissonant, sounding as if Bartók were channeling gospel, its rolling chords as unaffectedly inexorable as turbulent ocean tides. File Second Grace under "Very good, could've been great."

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