James Yorkston has built up an imposing catalogue, one that explores the richness of life's experiences in language both blunt and poetic.
While his voice is quite singular he's often sought collaboration, and his new album 'The Wide, Wide River' is the perfect example of this.
A refulgent return from the Scottish artist, it finds James working alongside the Second Hand Orchestra to wonderful effect.
Clash is enraptured by the record, and invited James Yorkston to write about some of his mid-winter listens, the kind of warming, soothing affairs you often turn to during those long, dark nights.
We had half-expected him to dwell on folk pastures - he's written for Clash before about such greats - but in the end his list expands those definitions until they are essentially meaningless, a five-strong list of records just waiting to be explored.
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Ed Dowie – The Uncle Sold
I get sent a lot of music. Friends, colleagues etc, people asking to be played on the podcast I do, 46-30… It’s can’t all be good, of course. But when Lost Map released this album, it was clear on the first listen how great it was.
It’s basically a very chilled pop album. Like a classic-era Pet Shop Boys record that’s been remixed by Brian Eno. The perfect songs, the textures, even the nice ‘n’ compact running time – all good. And for me, not knowing of Ed’s past, it kinda came out of nowhere, which is always a pleasant surprise.
A folk album? No, I wouldn’t say it was a folk album at all. But what would I know…
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D’Gary – Malagasy Guitar
This was the guitar album that started a lot of it, for me. The atmosphere and the playing was such that I took out a student loan and bought my first acoustic guitar, although my playing sounds nothing like D’Gary. He’s a unique player, his style rooted in the Malagasy tradition - it’s very easy to hear echoes of the great Rakotozafy in there.
Like so many of the people whose music I love, D’Gary plays with a relaxed grace, he’s not shouting out for attention, just noodling away. I remember bumping into a Famous Guitar Hero once, and we bonded over D’Gary’s playing. We both loved the melodies, but Famous Guitar Hero was all about the speed and the complexity, whereas I was all about the vibe and the silences. And I guess that lot describes this album well.
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Brìghde Chaimbeul – The Reeling
I’m a fan of pipe music in general, especially the Uillean pipes of Ireland, which produce a softer sound than the Great Highland pipes. But most of the players I love – Seamus Ennis, Willie Clancy etc - tend to be from the past, and they played with more of a feel, and less of a desire to play 100 notes a second, which it seems a lot of the younger players do. That’s not just in pipe music, of course, it’s evident everywhere in music. People showing off, basically.
But Brìghde’s album – played on the Scottish small pipes - is the opposite of all that. She has such a wonderful feel with her playing, there’s no rushing, no trickery, just beautiful, sensitive playing and a great selection of tunes, delicately produced by Lau’s Aidan O’Rourke.
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Papa M – Live From A Shark Cage
Before I signed to Domino Records, 20 years ago, almost, they sent me a box full of albums, just to show the sort of thing they did, the music they supported. This was one of the albums, and I loved it.
I guess the easiest description would be – imagine if the two twiddly guitar folk from 'Marquee Moon' just kept on playing and noodling around each other, after the rest of Television had left the studio. And somehow the tapes were still rolling. And then maybe someone had fed them a load of Valium and encouraged them just to keep playing, keep playing…
It also has a track on it named ‘I Am Not Lonely With Cricket’, which is perfect. This is a great fireside album, but also a great motorway album.
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Ry Cooder & V.M.Bhatt - A Meeting By The River
I guess this was the first “fusion” album I knowingly heard. Andy Kershaw had played the track 'Ganges Delta Blues' on his radio programme, whilst the band I was in were sat in a van, either on the way too or from a gig. We listened, transfixed, turning it up and marvelling at the energy and the playing. I tracked it down and bought a CD, which was a huge investment for me, in those days.
Although it sounds daft, what with me being in Yorkston Thorne Khan, I tend to avoid “fusion” bands – when there’s one guy from this culture, with one lady from another, remixed by a group from a third – as it can all seem quite gimmicky. But when it works, as in this album, it creates something not only new, but quite beautiful, also.
Back before Covid, people used to approach me on tour and ask me complex questions about Indian Classical music, but I know almost nothing about it. All I do is sit down and listen and react to what Suhail is playing – and I’ve always thought this album has that exact same vibe.
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'The Wide, Wide River' is out on January 22nd.
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