James Yorkston seems to be releasing music and gigging all the time, but this is actually his first self-penned record since ‘When the Haar Rolls In’ four years ago. From the first note, you realise how much you’ve missed him. I Was a Cat from a Book blends some of the finest musicianship in the land with Yorkston’s unmistakable delicate Fife tones and song-writing that engulfs you in its subtle sweetness.
Opener ‘Catch’ seems to carry on where ‘Haar’ ends. It’s so understated, but packed with a swirl of a clarinet and a bubbling of double bass that is far from the ram shackled pop folk gracing radios today. But, from ‘Kath with Rhodes’ and its guest, the superb and unmistakable tone of Kathryn Williams, Cat comes into its own. Yorkston’s voice quakes with its gentleness, but rips out in a more raucous tune like ‘Border Song’, showing off his brilliant writing, lyrics full of observation of the most intricate detail and arrangements that step from heart wrenching beauty to folk carnage. Production wise, the vocals could be a tad louder, but the rest is perfection.
That heart wrenching beauty is seen no better than in ‘This Line Says’, a love story with a dark side, which seems to be a bit of a theme on this album along with ‘Sometimes the Act of Giving Love’ and ‘The Fire and the Flames’, written about his daughter hospitalised through illness. ‘This line says I love you, this line is a lie, this line is the curse upon you and all those with whom you lie’, the former says, with a soothing cello battling against cascading and screeching violins.
Thank goodness for ‘Just As Scared’ to lighten the mood! Again, Yorkston is accompanied by a female voice, this time Jill O’Sullivan, whose voice is so rich and pretty, it’s like adding honey to your porridge. Yorkston taking the higher harmonies in many of his songs just makes that spine tingle a little bit more.
A shining gem on this album, which shows off Yorkston’s tenderness in voice and writing is ‘A Short Blues’. Its harmonies are so simple, but so beautiful, and give it that edge that just seems to get right into your head. Just stunning.
Any Yorkston fan will undoubtedly love this latest offering, but for those folkies who he hasn’t charmed yet, it’s a great introduction to him and the amazing musicians he works with.
Words: Gemma Hampson