James Yorkston – The Route To The Harmonium

Secret Meeting score: 80

by Philip Moss

Across a near 20 year career, Scottish singer/songwriter, James Yorkston, has – while never crossing over into the general public’s conscious – picked up a somewhat cult status. He’s revered by the likes of Jarvis Cocker, John Peel and Beth Orton. He’s worked worked with Simon Raymonde, Rustin Man, Alexis Taylor and Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet. His debut album even won Rough Trade’s Album of the Year in 2002.

Since his last solo record in 2014, it would be unfair to say Yorkston’s not been busy. He’s put out two records as part of the trio, Yorkston/Thorne/Khan, and released his debut novel. But now it’s back to the ‘day job’. And from the moment his tickled acoustic guitar enters on Your Beauty Could Not Save You, Yorkston’s eighth offering is a joy – the nyckelharpa gifted by a friend glittering around his hushed, dreamy voice.

As well as the expected sweet folk offerings – Solitary Islands All and Brittle – and Oh Me, Oh My showing flashes of the Phil Elverum aesthetic, three of the tracks are spoken word pieces: the angsty first person narrative told over motorik drums on My Mouth Ain’t No Bible is a real standout, and also displays Yorkston’s dry sense of humour – ‘My plans never changed… the Pope of Cool, that’s me – if I can manage to get to age 65 still alive, I will stick my middle finger to the world!’ While Shallow, underpinned by gentle electronics, is the perfect example of why Yorkston called on long term collaborator, David Wrench (Frank Ocean, FKA Twigs, David Byrne), to help ‘make sense’ of the hours of home recordings he’d compiled – the subtle musicality providing the perfect foil for Yorkston’s storytelling.

The Route To The Harmonium is yet another example of why Yorkston means so much to so many. As expected, there’s nothing here that is likely to win him a Brit Award, and one senses that’s exactly the way he likes it. But what we do have is another record that will definitely see his cult status continuing to grow.

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