James Yorkston and the Athletes 

Moving Up Country

The story goes that James Yorkston came into English favor after renowned DJ and music-hound John Peel listened to his demo and played the Scottish songwriter's wide-open folk on his radio show. Revered folksinger John Martyn heard these songs and booked the heretofore unknown as his opening act on his British tour.

Add in the fact that he's chummy with some of the Beta Band crowd and that ex-Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde produced his debut, and you've got a reason for young and old to gather 'round the turntable in hopes of hearing another possible pitchman for Volkswagen. We'll have to wait another thirty years to see if Yorkston fits the bill, but for now this debut is an unassuming slice of simple foggy charm.

Using minimal amounts of percussion with shakers, Yorkston sings simple, lilting melodies only occasionally augmented by bells and a wheezing accordion. He does bring out the full band at times, but the intimacy remains.

Yorkston's solitary folk whispers rely just as much on his strategically minimal fingerpicking as it does on his parallel melody lines. What could just be an exercise in atmosphere is brought down to earth through his songwriting, which maintains a distance but is unafraid to speak plainly. He's obviously smitten with the soul-searching ways of the folk revivalists and is drawn to their love of the prewar blues and gospel 78s, but never strays from his modern vision -- that being one in which a group of like-minded musicians should be able to get together and create folk songs where there weren't any before. A success, to say the least.


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