Recorded in Chicago while the band was the opening act for Edith Frost, A Warm and Yeasty Corner is a lovely piece of work. Although offering just five songs to keep the listener’s attention, the songs here were chosen quite well. The opening track is the Vashti Bunyan song “Window Over the Bay”, a track that is equal parts traditional Celtic and modern pop. With a supporting cast featuring members of Bosco & Jorge as well as L’Altra, Roberts nails this folk song with all the sincerity of so many performers before him. The Scottish lilt is just audible enough during the bridge to let Lindsay Anderson’s piano flow effortlessly. The fragile tone in his voice is also another highlight.
The second track is another traditional Celtic folk song, “Sally Free and Easy”. The Cyril Tawney track again features Roberts’ vocals, but also briefly showcases grand harmonies with Bill Lowman. Featuring a charengo, the song strongly resembles a Chieftains b-side. The likes of Anne Briggs, Paddy Tunney and Shirley Collins can also be heard as strong influences. The tune is also not far from an early acoustic Pink Floyd attempt, such as those led by Roger Waters or even keyboardist Richard Wright.
A Warm and Yeasty Corne
US: Available as import
UK: 6 May 2002
By far, though, the best track has to be the cover of Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. To be less than stellar, the track would have to be absolutely butchered, but Roberts almost surpasses Flack’s soulful and tender version. There are moments near its conclusion that could reduce a hopeless romantic to tears. The slight audible warble in the line “The first time ever I lay with you / I felt your heart so close to mine” is almost blissful. It’s also the first and only track where Roberts tends to take control, particularly from the second verse on.
If anything works against A Warm and Yeasty Corner, it’s that something so good should be so short in duration. Like so many singles released by Belle and Sebastian, the effort is gorgeous but far too brief. The disc’s only low point may be “Josephine”, which sounds almost too contemporary given the other songs. The song, which uses Napoleon and Josephine as its characters, has Roberts giving another solid performance, but the arrangement seems a bit stifled. The dirge-like harmony vocal also works against the song. On the whole, though, it’s a passable track.
The last song is a very cellular song. Well actually, the title is “A Very Cellular Song (Coda)” and feels like it was recorded in a castle kitchen somewhere in the Hebrides. With a simple and repetitive lyric throughout the four-minute song, it’s easy to see why so many nearby decided to add harmony vocals and handclaps. Starting off with just Roberts and Lindsay Anderson’s flute, the track becomes somewhat of a marching tune with the addition of drums. It also sounds midway through that Roberts tires slightly of the verse, but the added vocals push and urge him to continue. It’s an almost perfect conclusion to a brilliant effort. Even if Roberts didn’t write any of the lyrics, listening to these covers would lead you to believe they were his words and not just his angelic voice.