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James Yorkston & The Big Eyes Family Players Folk Songs Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Establishes Yorkston as a master of his craft unwilling to leave his comfort zone.

Chris White 2009

On his five albums to date, Scottish folk stalwart James Yorkston has largely recorded his own original songs, but such is their timeless feel one could be forgiven for assuming they had been performed at Highland céilidhs since the days of Bonnie Prince Charlie. So the surprising thing about his latest collection is not so much that the Fife resident has decided to release an entire album of folk covers, but that it took him so long to finally get round to it.

An idea originally conceived nearly a decade ago, Yorkston takes inspiration from the back catalogues of folk royalty such as Nic Jones, Anne Briggs and Christy Moore on this collaboration with Sheffield's The Big Eyed Family Players, who slip seamlessly into the breach normally occupied by The Athletes. It's the usual genial, relaxed fare – gently strummed acoustic guitar throughout, a fiddle here and a clarinet there to add a little texture – with the odd up-tempo number (for example the single Martinmas Time) to get the toes tapping.

But therein lies the problem with Yorkston. Quite simply, he's becoming a little too predictable in what he does and most of the hoary old ballads he's chosen to interpret on Folk Songs just aren't memorable enough to make this anything more than the latest in an ever lengthening line of pleasant but unremarkable James Yorkston albums. The one exception is Little Musgrave, but only when you suddenly realise the lyrics James is mumbling amiably are the same as those on Fairport Convention's magnificent epic Matty Groves – a great example of how a traditional song can be powerfully reworked by a folk act prepared to take risks.

Ever since 2002's excellent Moving Up Country debut, Yorkston's been steadily churning out similar-sounding albums at a rate of one every year or so, generally high in quality but low on new ideas. That may be enough to satisfy the diehards, but it's something of a disappointment for the rest of us and further establishes Yorkston as a master of his craft unwilling to leave his comfort zone.

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