It has become commonplace for artists to release interim recordings between full-length albums. As fans we hope to catch either a glimpse of the future musical direction that the artist has planned for their upcoming album, or to enter a collector’s dream world and have access to a trove of previously unreleased recordings from the artists’ past. In the case of James Yorkston‘s Someplace Simple EP, which follows up his critically acclaimed outing with backing band the Athletes, Moving up Country, Yorkston combines these two options by including one new self-written song in the title track, three traditional recordings that pre-date the release of his debut, and a cover of Lal and Mike Waterson’s “Scarecrow”. While this EP does not provide followers with any new revelations about Yorkston’s skill or direction, it does gather a host of songs that deserve official release based upon their barren beauty alone.
The only new original on this EP, “Someplace Simple”, would have fit in seamlessly with the works collected on Moving Up Country. It employs all of the signature traits that made Yorkston’s last outing such a success. Framed around his laconic vocal delivery, this song weaves acoustic guitar, banjo, accordion, and subtle backing vocals to birth a full-bodied pub ballad that speaks volumes on the effortless nature of love. Although this is a beautiful and plaintive track, it does little to give longtime fans any sense of where Yorkston’s sophomore release, which is due in the spring of 2004, is headed.
The cover of the Waterson brother’s “Scarecrow” uses much of the same instrumentation as the title track. Like the former, “Scarecrow” is a slow burn. Starting with just vocal and acoustic guitar, the song builds to include new players in succession to create the sense that each additional player sat down and joined the session as they entered the room. Not an essential recording, “Scarecrow” does, however, provide a gentle complement to the opener “Someplace Simple”.
The first of the early traditional recordings, the old sea shanty “Rosemary Lane” finds Yorkston singing in a more assured and convincing manner. Unlike so many of his original songs, here he employs a verve that is refreshing and, most importantly, suits him well. The song breaks no new ground musically, relying on the sparse arrangement of acoustic guitar and accordion that is so common to many of Yorkston’s studio tracks, but “Rosemary Lane” is worth a listen for the subtle change in the vocal style.
Of the two remaining traditionally arranged songs, “In Dessexshire as it Befel” provides the greatest treat for fans. Sounding like the soundtrack to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, “In Dessexshire as it Befel” features the most adventurous arrangement on this EP. Yorkston’s vocals sound a bit coarse and nasally as they emerge in duplicate panned left and right while one note drones on the accordion in the background. The results are haunting yet uplifting. The combination of the lyrical content, Yorkston’s delivery, and the somber tone of the accordion fuse to create a dank but reflective Christmas hymn.
As many of us know, there is a certain comfort in finding things right where we left them. In the case of Yorkston’s intermediate release of the Someplace Simple EP not much has changed in the two years since the release of Moving Up Country. The pleasure of hearing Yorkston back behind the microphone is somewhat tempered by the disappointment that he is right where we left him, crafting bare and subtle tracks that revolve around the brittle tunefulness of his voice. This EP will most likely be a must purchase item for true fans, but those unfamiliar with Yorkston’s debut should either pick up that album or simply wait a few months for his second album with the Athletes. For the novice listener, the Someplace Simple EP may prove to be a bit too simple of a place.
// Notes from the Road
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