James Yorkston - "Tortoise Regrets Hare" (When the Haar Rolls In)
Folk music has long been a window into the most basic concerns of the working class, whether it’s coming from the mouths of those affected most or from a concerned observer in the tradition of Seeger or Brel. Some sing to make the unappreciated more visible, while some use their gift of expression to simply bring beauty to an otherwise wearisome disposition. When the Haar Rolls In is the fourth solo album from James Yorkston and it achieves the difficult task of being relevant to modern society while remaining a legitimate extension of the folk genre.
The landscape is descriptive and visual, a world full of archetypes and outsiders narrated by Yorkston’s calm cadence. His delivery equates steadiness and heroism without promoting the narcissism and recklessness that often accompanies such resonance, partly because melancholy is simply a more inclusive emotion than satisfaction. “Sadness swept through me like a stubborn sea wind / When I’m feeling my worst the best news in the world fails to move me / I cannot bear to touch or share a word.” Those lines, from the title track, are indicative of Yorkston’s willingness to let music get him through the times he finds himself “waiting out,” as well as the adjusted role of the folk singer that he embodies so well.
When the Haar Rolls In speaks of countrysides and long nights spent at the pub, existing on the margins without ignoring the obvious shift towards a more urban, mechanized dominant culture. It is a return to the hung-over ballads that made his 2002 debut with the Athletes so timely. There is not much sympathy for the drunken cheers of last year’s The Year of the Leopard in our sobered-up society and folk music has never practiced the escapism that propels most mainstream music. To hear the arrangements tremble with excitement as Yorkston, barely audible at points, switches casually between allusion and vulnerability is to hear the conflict behind his work. His songwriting, with lyrics pulled from journals, is purely of the observe-and-comment variety, while musically he celebrates and indulges in the overwhelming tradition of Scottish, Irish and English folk. The contrasting composition is a testament to the inner doubt and the outer show of confidence that beleaguers the modern man.
When the Haar Rolls In doesn’t sustain the energy of previous Yorkston albums. He rarely exhibits an urgency for change or drama - two things folk music often does well. He does succeed, however, in describing the world he lives in with equal parts romance and desolation. With Haar, Yorkston embraces the antiquity of the folk singer in a post-everything world and still manages to make relevant the traditional basis of his music.