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James Yorkston: I Was A Cat From A Book
First record in four years from Scottish troubadour worth the wait
Olaf Tyaransen, 04 Sep 2012
James Yorkston’s first studio album since 2008’s acclaimed When The Haar Rolls In sees the Fife-born, avant-folk troubadour team-up with some newly recruited ‘Athletes’, including members of Lamb and The Cinematic Orchestra, alongside regular old stalwarts.
Co-produced with Dave Wrench and recorded live over five wintry days in Bryn Derwen Studios, North Wales, it’s not exactly a bag of chuckles. Except for those rare energetic moments when he cuts loose and angrily freaks out – namely manic first cut ‘Border Song’ and vitriolic album closer ‘I Can Take All This’ – the pace is generally slow, mournful and timeless, often reminiscent of Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen or even David Kitt. Having said that, it’s certainly not as sparse and introspective as previous albums like Year Of The Leopard.
While it’s Yorkston’s distinctive vocals that dominate, the musicianship is superb throughout – strings, clarinet and the drumming of The Cinematic Orchestra’s Luke Flowers combining to create an atmospheric sonic underlay to his lyrical musings about love, loss and life.
New pianist John Ellis immediately proves his worth on album opener ‘Catch’, a wry sketch about the arrogance of youth (“We were Brel and Fitzgerald taunting their charges). He duets beautifully with Kathryn Williams on the light and airy ‘Kath With Rhodes’, and again with Sparrow & The Workshop’s Jill O’Sullivan on ‘Just As Scared’.
It was his daughter’s illness that caused the four-year delay between Haar and this album, and his tender meditation on the agony of helplessly watching the suffering of someone you love, ‘The Fire And The Flames’, is probably the most personal and painful track here. This is followed by the brilliant ‘A Short Blues’, a song essentially about the struggle to remain optimistic and upbeat in the face of great challenges.
All told, IWACFRAB is a melodic, moving and artful piece of work. I can’t imagine it ever bothering the charts, but that’ll hardly bother its hugely talented creator.