With all the fuss about Glasgow's rock scene dominating the UK media, it's refreshing...
Jon Lusk 2004
With all the fuss about Glasgow's rock scene dominating the UK media, it's refreshing to hear that Edinburgh too has its fair share of charms. Originally from nearby Fife, James Yorkston claims to have met most of the members of his regular 6-piece band at different times in different Edinburgh pubs. So this is a northerly outpost of the 'new folk sound' of Domino, not the indie-rock reverb of Scotland's most musical city.
Yorkston's almost conversationally murmured, brogue-less vocals fall somewhere between those of Nick Drake and Ray Davies. He has a way with words that periodically startles, as on "Hotel": 'The window's open and the winter's rushing in'. His lyrics tend to convey a specific and usually autobiographical sense of time and place, dwelling mostly on affairs of the heart.
The all-acoustic arrangements featuring guitar, bass, banjo, piano, violin and recurrent surges of accordion are somehow warm and wintry at once, suggesting a fondness for the kind of alt-country Americana plied by Will Oldham et al. Most of The Athletes are multi-instrumentalists, and they artfully shadow Yorkston with backing vocals almost throughout.
The harmonica and lap steel that punctuated their 2002 debut Moving Up Country have been dropped, and in general there's a more stripped-down, live feel with increased focus on Yorkston's song writing on this second outing. Holly Taylor's occasional low whistle lends the most identifiably Celtic influence, further underlined by the inclusion of a couple of traditional songs.The first of these is the murder ballad entitled "Edward", and its halting sing-song tune contrasts with Yorkston's understated original melodies, which take longer to sink in. The Snows They Melt The Soonest is radically reinvented as a trancelike jam that suggests Can or The Velvet Underground unplugged.
It makes you wonder what this band would sound like electrified, or how soon it will be before they release a whole album of traditional songs, since Yorkston claims to have enough unreleased material to do so. The six-track bonus EP that comes with this beautifully packaged edition seems a little superfluous, but it does suggest a convergence between the original and traditional material, perhaps hinting at a future direction for this surprisingly engaging artist.