Release Date: Aug 13, 2012
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Four years on from When the Haar Rolls In -- the East Fife, Scotland-born artist’s previous album of self-penned material -- I Was a Cat from a Book finds the creative and ever exploratory James Yorkston in pensive mood following his young daughter’s recovery from a serious illness. Named after her description of a vivid dream, it contains some of Yorkston’s most honest and soul-searching lyrics to date and directly follows the ten-year anniversary of his acclaimed debut, 2002’s Moving Up Country. While the journey from Country to Haar saw him develop from a tentative but assured bedsit romantic to the accomplished Dylanesque lyricist of the latter album’s title track, here it’s Yorkston’s controlled and masterful lightness of touch which helps him deal with topics that could have felt overly intense in the hands of others.
When an artist re-releases a seminal album, it can often be hard to follow it up with new material; as if the new release can’t hold a candle to that iconic record, remastered and repackaged, and only reminds us of the diminishing returns the listener has received ever since. That was certainly a worry with James Yorkston’s latest album, which follows the reissue of his debut Moving Up Country last year. Celebrating that record’s tenth anniversary, the reissue had served to underline just how Yorkston had captured his particular sound so perfectly on that record – languid, unhurried, unshowy folk, obviously indebted to past masters but with a particular gaze of its own.
The Fife folkie has always framed his gentle burr and poetic lyrics with care, as perfected on 2008's semi-orchestral When the Haar Rolls In. Recorded with a new band, this is a looser affair, shifting slightly awkwardly between characteristic intimacy and angry eruptions delivered to a flurry of instrumentation. Moments of delight snatched against looming mortality are the common thread.
When Scotsman James Yorkston sings “The act of giving love can fool you into believing that you’re receiving love” on ‘Sometimes The Act Of Giving Love’, it feels as unnecessary as your dad trying to explain twerking. Yorkston, y’see, is in his early 40s, and ‘I Was A Cat…’ is his 10th album. No-one ever needs to hear the guy getting sexy.
Three stars feels a bit churlishly ungenerous to James Yorkston, a man with a vision so defined and individual that you feel compelled to take him entirely on his own terms, or not at all. His fifth album of original material – and his first for four years – rolls by like a river, all finger-picked guitars and delicate arrangements, and atop it all Yorkston's tremulous voice, quavering through lyrics that are poetic in intent but often just too dense to parse. I Can Take All This, for example, manages to cram 600 words into three minutes: this is not a man who lives by the maxim: "Don't bore us, get to the chorus.
‘I Was A Cat From A Book’ is Yorkston’s sixth release for Domino Records. Not only is it a continuation of his consistently lovely sounding chamber folk-styled work, it also sees the Fence collective member modernize his sound. It’s in these moments that the album is at its musical peak. At times it is with some subtle and carefully placed electronica, as seen on the delicate lullaby, ‘Kath With Rhodes’.
The emotion and honesty on display are qualities that will never go out of style. James Skinner 2012 James Yorkston’s fifth album proper deals with some meaty, adult themes – from the complexities of long-term relationships and the heaving onslaught of depression to the selective nature of memory. But what colours its more striking moments is a palpable sense of injustice.