Album Reviews

James Yorkston and the Second Hand Orchestra – Album Review

James Yorkston and the Second Hand Orchestra – Album Review
by Killian Laher

James Yorkston has been releasing music on his own and with various collaborators for nearly 20 years.  For his latest he flew to Sweden to record with The Second Hand Orchestra, martialled by Karl-Jonas Winqvist.

The opener Ella Mary Leather features a jaunty piano line throughout.  It’s cheery and it sounds catchy but ultimately doesn’t make a huge impression.  On ‘Choices, Like Wide Rivers’ Yorkston is joined by the Second Hand Orchestra as a sort of choir.  It’s in danger of turning into a mass singsong.

The rest of the album is more contemplative.  The hint of violin on To Soothe Her Wee Bit Sorrows, builds and builds over seven and a half glorious minutes with the violin gradually taking over the song.  It’s absolutely tremendous and it’s at this point you realise that this is a special little album.

Struggle is reminiscent of the more sensitive moments of The Smiths, with some exquisite jangly Marr guitar provided by Peter Morén (Peter, Bjorn and John), which really complements the violin.  Elsewhere, There Is No Upside has an almost surf orchestral groove.  The epic A Droplet Forms nods to Radiohead’s How To Disappear Completely, but if anything is quieter and more brooding.  Yorkston’s warm scratchy voice over sparse piano is ably accompanied by violin that swoops in and out of the song and a lovely backing vocal from Emma Nordenstam.

The instrumentation and playing of Yorkston and co is what lifts seemingly ordinary songs like A Very Old-Fashioned Blues to become gloriously melancholic.  It finishes with the sparse, fingerpicked We Test The Beams.  You’ll be sorry when it’s over!

The album is like a warm winter brew with a relaxed, loose feel akin to the second half of Bill Callahan’s Apocalypse album, albeit a very different type of vocalist.  A great place to start with or rediscover James Yorkston.

Track List:
1. Ella Mary Leather
2. To Soothe Her Wee Bit Sorrows
3. Choices, Like Wide Rivers
4. Struggle
5. There Is No Upside
6. A Droplet Forms
7. A Very Old-Fashioned Blues
8. We Test The Beams




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