Los Angeles is beautiful right now. The sky is almost completely blanketed with a thin layer of cloud, each cloud undercoated with gray as if it could start raining any moment. It won't, though. Not yet. We have a few weeks, maybe even a month before there's any significant rain, but still, this weather holds a promise that L.A. is moving out of its summer monotony of heat and dust. The wind is moving everything around, warm and round and humid, unlike the Santa Anas and their hot, lip-chapping blast. I'm ready. I want to have a good excuse to sit on the couch and watch a movie as the rain pours off the roof and through the huge oak in my front yard. I'm ready for a day that will welcome a centrepiece like James Yorkston's Year of the Leopard.
Yorkston plays a beautiful acoustic guitar and he writes a beautiful song. He kicked around Scotland and England for years in punk bands and the like, settling down to write the type of gorgeous tomes that Pete Paphides of The Times (London) called, “...songs that sound not so much written as carefully retrieved from your own subconscious, played with an intuition bordering on telepathy. " He's got a great, simultaneously warm and brittle voice that sometimes reminds of fellow Scot, David Gray. His songs are not too far afield from Gray's work, either, often underpinned by burbling electronics and synth washes that, surprisingly, never pull them out of the Brit-Folk context from which they emerge. Yorkston has toured with Beth Orton, David Gray, the Tindersticks, Turin Brakes, Lambchop after having come to many fans' attention through his opening slot on all 27 dates of John Martyn's 2001 tour.
Year of the Leopard, from 2007, was his 3rd release for Domino Records (quickly becoming a touchstone for some of the more interesting and chance-taking bands coming out of the UK). It was produced by Rustin Man (nee Paul Webb), from the legendary, production-heavy Talk Talk and most recently from the lauded and out of print sessions with Portishead's Beth Gibbons. That light hand with the electronics and the enfolded clarinet and harmonica, recorder, mandolin and strings are exactly what Talk Talk has come to represent, and it's here in full force.
The album flows strong and unbroken from its solid opener "Summer Song," into the record's real highlight, (which I've included a video for, below) "Steady As She Goes." The only odd note happens with the appearance of "Don't Let Me Down," the album's 9th track, which, as lush (if not more so) than the rest of the album, is so strongly in the style of Radiohead's Thom Yorke that I kept checking the credits to assure myself that it wasn't a cover.
I found this in the hats displayed above the FOLK Clearance section. It was $1.99. I would have paid $20 for it. Find one and dig it. www.jamesyorkston.co.uk
Here's a few other James Yorkston albums, as well as the newest, When the Haar Rolls In, due out next Tuesday, November 4, 2008.