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James Yorkston and the Athletes

Moving Up Country

(Domino; US: 26 Aug 2002; UK: 24 Jun 2002)

For James Yorkston, it seems that he can do no wrong when it comes to being at the right place at the right time. When he was 17, a friend working at a record shop offered Yorkston’s name as an opener for Bert Jansch. Jansch was so enthused with the young singer he remained on his 30-date tour. After Yorkston sent in a demo to famed British radio personality John Peel, Peel immediately put “Moving Up Country, Roaring the Gospel” into his show’s rotation. Now, having been signed to Domino Records, which is the home of both Clinic and Four Tet, Yorkston is surely to be known on both sides of the big pond. His debut album mixes the wit and soul of Badly Drawn Boy with the ‘70s pop folk of Nick Drake.


Starting with a lush acoustic arrangement in “In Your Hands”, Yorkston’s guitar work resembles both John Fahey and the subtle hooks of David Gilmour. With a talented multi-instrumental and multi-talented band the Athletes supporting him, Yorkston seems to take this song and create a simple yet elegant sound using bouzouki, concertina and accordion. “St. Patrick” has a Celtic lullaby feeling to it, but it starts off a bit more deliberate than the first track. With a voice that is pure and soft, Yorkston can do almost nothing wrong. The album also has a closeness feeling to it, perhaps because it was recorded entirely in a Scottish cottage. But the flow of the first two songs is almost ideal, a loose folk feeling over a slightly brooding backdrop.


Picking up the tempo with “Sweet Jesus”, the number has a much faster beat and a greater intensity. What makes the song is that it builds and builds but teases the listener by not taking the plunge. “As I believe in fate and you’re a sucker for the stars / I’m sure we got Sweet Jesus on our side, Singing Sweet Jesus when she will be mine!” Yorkston sings before the song peters out. One track that doesn’t work as well is “Tender to the Blues”, where the lyrics and music just don’t match up as well as they should. Similar to British folk-rock group Appendix Out, the audible lilt resembles Ray Davies at times. But this is quickly atoned for with the album’s highlight, “Moving Up Country, Roaring the Gospel”. Having a similar tone to Pink Floyd’s obscure track from Echoes, “San Tropez”, Yorkston takes a leisurely sonic stroll over accordion and barroom piano. If there’s a slight problem here, it’s the fact the ending is drawn out a bit longer than needed.


A touch of alternative country or country folk shows up on “Cheating the Game”. Resembling Wilco or Golden Smog at its finest, the brushes used for percussion as well as the banjo makes it all the more enjoyable and soothing. The cheeriest track of the lot is “I Spy Dogs”, a song based on viewing a horrid band in Paris. Although the chorus and orchestral bridge works well, the tune seems to be a bit too busy at times. “And he knows this cannot last, and he dreams he’s far away,” might be talking about the band or Yorkston state of mind at the time. One thing that is certain is Yorkston could carry a tune in a bottomless bucket. “6:30 Is Way Too Early” is a mid-tempo downtrodden track featuring Wendy Chan on harmonies. But it veers into a spacey country-rock contraption in the vein of Canada’s answer to Wilco, Blue Rodeo.


Rounding out the album are two tunes that return to the early glory of the album. “Patient Song” was originally not going to be included on the record, but the producer, Cocteau Twin’s Simon Raymonde, insisted it be on. Resembling seventies folk pop song in the vein of Nick Drake, although its middle portion takes on a haunting quality. “She’s laughing, turns and catches my eye/Does me the rest of the day…” Yorkston sings. Closing with, “I Know My Love”, a track from an Eliza Carthy/Nancy Kerr album The Shape Of Scrape, Yorkston takes the intricate structure and makes it work oh so well. To use a British term, this is bloody well done.

Originally from Cape Breton, MacNeil is currently writing for the Toronto Sun as well as other publications, including All Music Guide, Billboard.com, NME.com, Country Standard Time, Skope Magazine, Chart Magazine, Glide, Ft. Myers Magazine and Celtic Heritage. A graduate of the University of King's College, MacNeil currently resides in Toronto. He has interviewed hundreds of acts ranging from Metallica and AC/DC to Daniel Lanois and Smokey Robinson. MacNeil (modestly referred to as King J to friends), a diehard Philadelphia Flyers fan, has seen the Rolling Stones in a club setting, thereby knowing he will rest in peace at some point down the road. Oh, and he writes for PopMatters.com.


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