James Yorkston releases his new album The Route to the Harmonium this Friday, Feb 22nd 2019. Produced by Yorkston and David Wrench, it is James’ first solo record since 2014’s Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society (CRAWS) and follows the two collaborative albums he made as one third of Yorkston/Thorne/Khan as well as the release of his debut novel Three Craws in 2016. This album is interesting as it certainly encompasses the collaborative approach of CRAWS and also perhaps the trio with Jon Thorne and Suhail Yusuf Khan, but is still very much a James Yorkston album with those pondering and reflective lyrics, albeit more gritty and alarming than sublime and poignant.
The album was almost entirely recorded by James himself, in East Neuk of Fife, in his neglected loft space, originally used to repair fisherman’s nets. If there are still nets in this space, they are simply used to catch curious instruments, as this loft that he uses to record is somewhat of a museum for devices of sound. Working this time with his long-time collaborator David Wrench, mixer and producer who has worked with the likes of Caribou, Four Tet, and David Byrne, the two of them set out to turn his recordings into a wonderfully compiled LP.
Personally My Mouth Ain’t No Bible is the stand-out track, half-way down the album, a formidably damning track, which hoards elements of a drill, military snares clearly present accompanying Yorkston’s harsher spoken voice, as he takes on two personas. Clearly one is himself, the other a lost musician friend, “a spare hand, a hired hand, a deck hand” who was unable to prevent self-destruction, this track is wonderfully dark, forcing listeners through his lyricism to consider death and reflection.
Opener, Your Beauty Could Not Save You, deceptively lures you into a sedate, dream-like state, introvertly exploring friendships, relationships, an intimate culmination of trumpet and some of these aforementioned instruments along with his lullaby-vocal-tone. The Irish Wars of Independence brings us back to previous singles of Yorkston’s, Woozy with Cider and Tortoise Regrets Hare comes to mind.
Shallow is a beautifully layered and multi-textured track, which transcends genres, through the incorporation of brass. The foundations of a wonderful folk song, we veer into jazz half-way through with the trumpet solo, both of which weld together a tale of pathos. An intimately personal album, The Route to the Harmonium not only hints at Yorkston’s collection of antique instruments but lets us in further, the fact that he alludes to the making with the mere title opens the door for the listener to enter his head that wee bit more.
Overlaying vocal and guitar tracks, Dulcitones, harmoniums and autoharps, the Swedish string instrument, nyckelharpa, there are many textures to these tracks, none without emotion. A rich reflection on his musical life, we are given a unfiltered insight into Yorkston’s world and this is perhaps his most affecting album to date.
The Route to the Harmonium is out on Friday 22nd February, 2019, via Domino Records.