James Yorkston - I Was a Cat From a Book (*****)
Even if you didn’t know its background, I Was a Cat… is an emotionally powerful listen. With context, it near overwhelms: in 2010, James Yorkston’s daughter fell seriously ill, sidelining his musical commitments while he focussed all energies on her recovery. Folk is one of those genres where autobiography is presumed to inform a songwriter’s music in an especially direct manner, and certainly it’s impossible to hear the urgent I Can Take All This or the solemnly candid The Fire & The Flames ('all that I want is for you to be well my love') without the connection producing goose-bumps. But dwelling only on personal circumstances results in an unnecessarily reductive assessment of this remarkable album – Yorkston’s best yet, we’d venture. Further highpoints include Just as Scared’s stunning duet with Jill O’Sullivan, and the agitated, breathless Border Song, which underscore the record’s incisive beauty and fiery passion respectively.
Out 13th August
Initially, the stylistic shift produces a curiously aloof tone, but that’s not to paint it as dour: repeat listens bring its carefree undertow into focus, with the appeal of gibbering opener Yai Yai, and the delicate, dancing So Long particularly pronounced. There’s a hint of a tantalising middle ground waiting to be seized – a balance between her erstwhile full-band aesthetic and this crystalline left turn – but any urge to reconcile them at this juncture is neutralised by the album’s consistency and clarity of vision.
Out 6th August
Huw M - Gathering Dusk (***)
Elsewhere, folk-pop melodies skirt dangerously close to Mraz-ish empty whimsy, but successfully retain their compsure: Chwyldro Tawel, Ystafellowedd Gwag and For While I Wait For You To Sleep warrant particular praise, the former evocatively melancholic, the second proffering fluttering, gossamer guitar work, and the closing lullaby boosted by Bethan Reynolds’ gentle harmonies. A step sideways rather than forward perhaps, but a nicely judged one.