Wednesday, October 08, 2008
James Yorkston - When the Haar Rolls In
Back in 2002, the NME sought to assure its readers in the review of James Yorkston’s debut album Moving Up Country that here was folk music that it was OK to like. Fast forward six years and it’s hard to imagine them saying the same thing in the midst of a landscape where every elfin-featured young thing with an acoustic guitar is touted as ‘folk’. Maybe what they were thinking of back then was that Yorkston was OK because he was on Domino Records and wasn’t like that old-fashioned musty British folk, redolent of men with beards, Arran jumpers, weirdly named real ales and songs with 160 verses. In the middle of a New Rock Revolution, that was not what the kids wanted.
Cool people will surely then baulk at the prospect of Yorkston putting himself firmly back in the ale and beards camp with his recording of Lal Waterson’s Midnight Feast, on his new album When the Haar Rolls In, with backing vocals provided by the Brit-folk establishment that is the Waterson clan. Actually, the cool people aren’t even interested in the latest offering from Fife’s premier songsmith. Let’s be realistic, this album is unlikely to win Yorkston many new fans, but it is equally likely to confirm to his existing fans his songwriting genius.
I don’t use the word ‘genius’ lightly either. James is a man who has now crafted four exquisite albums of melancholic and beautiful folk music, each one subtly different from the last, each one equally appealing. There’s certainly been a shift in style since the previous album Year of the Leopard and its stripped-down acoustic introspection. On Haar, Yorkston brings back his friends for a much fuller arrangements (the Athletes are still there, despite being dropped from the titles – mainly because continually playing with a full band isn’t financially viable) involving harpsichord, vibraphone, bouzuki and a host of more conventional instruments. The result is quietly spectacular. We're back in very similar territory to Moving Up Country and every track is excellent, from the long, story-song title track to the sparsely worded Would You Have Me Born With Wooden Eyes?, each song has a ton of loving care invested and there’s not a second wasted even when nine songs last 50 minutes.
It’s to the credit of Domino Records, that not only do they go on releasing James Yorkston albums despite lack of big sales, they even put together a lavish box-set edition of the album for the most committed fans. Me? Of course. I didn’t rush into it, because for £30 I wanted to be sure that I’d really like the album. Fortunately, it only took listening to the two songs posted by Toad to convince me that it was worth getting. Now, several weeks later, I know that it’s his best album to date. For those who have yet to discover the magic of Yorkston, it’s an ideal place to start.
mp3: James Yorkston – Would You Have Me Born With Wooden Eyes?
mp3: James Yorkston – Tortoise Regrets Hare (Down the Tiny Steps Remix)
mp3: Suzy Mangion – Are You Coming Home Tonight?
The first song is from When the Haar Rolls In. Buy from Rough Trade or Bleep. The second song is from the remixes CD, included in the box set and the cover of Are You Coming Home Tonight? by Suzy Mangion is from the CD of James Yorkston covers by the likes of David Thomas Broughton, Viking Moses and King Creosote, also in the box set. Buy the lovely box set from Domino Mart. It’s well worth it.
By the way, it you’re wondering what haar is, look here for the answer.