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James Yorkston - The Year of the Leopard

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Artist: James Yorkston

Album: The Year of the Leopard

Label: Domino

Review date: Jan. 30, 2007

James Yorkston suffers from the old ‘grey and worthy’: charming songs, inoffensive, a passable voice, hints at transcendence (his debut single, “The Lang Toun,” was truly stunning). Perfectly serviceable, in other words, but you wouldn’t want a whole one: there’s a point at which Yorkston’s polite, rustic melodies become soporific, and you’re left yearning for something with more sting, some jagged edges that catch on the way down.

The Year of the Leopard is Yorkston’s third album and its major selling point is its production. Forgive me for suffering gilded-by-association awe, but I’d listen to Paul Webb’s (ex-Talk Talk, now Rustin Man) and Phill Brown’s tape off-cuts over most production teams’ grand opuses: Webb and Brown deserve canonization for their work on Beth Gibbons’s Out of Season alone. With Yorkston, though, they have less of a shape shifter on hand, and you can feel the restrictions Yorkston places on their practice. Consequently, they color his songs with lovely touches - aching woodwind, the wooden plonk of the double bass, the warm hum of concertina, and the soft padding of brush-on-drum.

While the sympathetic arrangements burnish Yorkston’s songs, giving them a pastoral/nocturnal glow and at times an eldritch air lacking on his first two albums, the great obstacle to full engagement with The Year of the Leopard may well be an almost performative undemonstrativeness, a tenor that borders on meekness. Though it is doubtless not a reflection of the man’s actual countenance, Yorkston comes across here as a little too dainty and precious, an artist who works hard at maintaining that greatest of poises: no poise.

By Jon Dale

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