I have to admit I found the prospect of sitting down to a whole album of ‘proper folk’ rather off-putting, even though it was recorded by James Yorkston (who it is no secret I am a massive fan of).
You see, my old man is the folkie really and I consider myself more of an aficionado of modern/urban/anti-folk. And while I’ve enjoyed the traditional folk covers included on Yorkie’s last couple of releases, with his storming version of Lal Waterson’s Midnight Feast on ‘When the Haar Rolls in’ and an early version of Blue Bleezin’ Blind Drunk on his ‘Roaring the Gospel’ compilation, it was always within the context of his original songs.
Despite these songs origins, spanning the entire UK and Ireland, and the fact this was recorded with a different group of musicians, the distinctive Yorkston style remains (apart from the singular Spanish tune, a Galicia gypsy hoe-down which may well be my favourite track for its sheer novelty).
See, Yorkston embodies the characters in these songs as if they were his own; and he changes the melody when it suits him – and James Green and the accompanying musicians from the Big Eyes Family Players add their own influences, bringing Can and Johnny Cash inspired basslines to the mix, as well as a hypnotic combination of accordion and strings.
One thing this collection seems to bring to light is Yorkston’s apparent obsession with “a poacher’s life”, being a poacher, and generally hunting and/or poaching quite a bit – the tracks Hills of Greenmore, Thorneymoor Woods, and Rufford Park Poachers all feature such bloody activities heavily. Yep, he seems quite taken with that whole poaching thing. As a non-meat eater this was all a bit disturbing for me as I listened to it whilst drifting off to sleep at night, and I awoke with vivid pictures of dying, bloody animals in my mind. Not one to send Morrissey for Christmas, I suspect.
Of course this is a little unfair, as the first track, Hills of Greenmoor is on closer listening, from the point of view of both the hunters and the hunted – the kind of clever twist in perspective that still hasn’t permeated into mainstream songwriting and doubtless never will.
Truth be told, tracks like Little Musgrave which comes from way back in the 16th century, are quite amazing stories set to melody that would rival the best River City omnibus. There’s a haunting quality about these dark, twisted tales that have been passed down the generations because they still ring true in quite a spooky way, like the best ghost stories round the campfire. So whilst not completely converted, I do think I will explore the world of trad folk a little more, and Yorkston’s own track-by-track liner notes are the best place to start for hints on where to look if you’re interested, with plenty of info of who have recorded these songs before such as the “bonny” Anne Briggs.
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First single Martinmas Time
An insight into the recording of the bonus disc accompanying the album (which I haven’t heard yet!)
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