The fine line between folk troubadour and coffee table singer songwriter can be infinitesimally small. Many an artist has started out with good intentions to then end up stuck on repeat on the turntable of dinner party hell. You know the sort, where the hostess invariably puts on something ‘nice’ in-between quiet conversation of which South American country makes the best backpacking destinations and the next round of cheese souffle. I’m hoping this doesn’t preclude me from any forthcoming invites but if I can avoid any more David Gray then I’m all down with beans on toast.
James Yorkston has never had any of these such problems though. Since emerging in 2002 as part of The Fence Collective, alongside such other artists as King Creosote and The Beta Band, he has released eight differing records so far that have firmly cemented himself as one of Scotland’s foremost artists. With folk having somewhat of a revival (not seen since bizarrely enough the “Folk Revivalists” of the late ’60s) through the current crop of American bands, it’s something of a rejection of these updated ideas that has led Yorkston to “Folk Songs”. A collection of traditional British and Irish songs made famous by the likes of Anne Briggs, Nic Jones and Eliza Carthy Folk Songs is a homage to the various players from the ’60s that have been an influence on Yorkton’s work. Forgoing his usual backing band the Athletes, Yorkston has put together his band this time from a CD passed to him after a gig by the their leader James Green. With this it seems that he has been able to be more confident to simply indulge his passions.
Beginning with “Hills of Greenmoor” what is instantly clear is that Folk Songs is certainly not going to be too far removed from Yorkston’s usual work. And this ultimately may be the point. Immediately this feels like a labour of love, a passing of the torch as it were with Yorkston allowing a brief glimpse into the window of where he is came from.
But Yorkston has not strictly stuck to traditional arrangements with “Mary Connaught and James O’Donnell” a driving skiffle like number and “Thorneymoon Park” with its tales of poaching sounding almost quaint while floating along on a bed of delicate psych. Made mildly famous by Fairport Convention, “Little Musgrave” is perhaps the standout here though and, while Yorkston admittedly does not have the widest of vocal ranges, his gruff brogue is the perfect encapsulation of the weary traveller reciting his well worn tale.
In different hands this could have quite easily been a lesson in whimsy but here Yorkston & the Big Eye Family Players have created a work of beauty that, while not reaching the dizzy heights of some of his previous outings, can still sit comfortably alongside them.