Any version of Nick Drake’s River man will always stop me in my tracks. The unusual time signature and the eerie contemporary classical arrangements to the original song make it such a rich ground for covers. If Norma Waterson’s version introduced me to the song, it is Brad Mehldau’s cover I keep coming back to. The American pianist has been performing River Man live for many years and has also recorded several versions of it (in solo or in a trio formation). Brad Mehldau never fails to engage with the material and this song is no exception.
Such a level of emotional engagement prompted the musician to note in a 2009 documentary that
“Right after I play, I feel kind of blank, emotionally like…and I also feel a little raw maybe, physically touchy. You know, I don’t want people to come right up to me…but they do…and that usually goes away after five or ten minutes, then I just feel like, whatever…back to earth.”