James Yorkston and The Athletes | DNO123
Once you've heard this arresting, intimate and subtle album, you may find yourself wondering how to categorise it. Of course, you may do the sensible thing and not care how it should be categorised - which suits James Yorkston just fine: his first album, the lush and rousing Moving Up Country was often labelled alt-country, his second, the sparse, meditative Just Beyond The River, tended to get corralled under the term "new folk," neither appellation seemed accurate.
His stunning third album, The Year Of the Leopard, confounds categories once again. Simply, It's an uplifting wee beauty. If there's a traditional side to it, it's following the tradition of individual singer-songwriter albums which conjure and inhabit a genre which lasts just as long as the needle's in the groove. "I'd love it if people had the same response to this album as I do to, say, Johnny Cash's American Recordings III, or Jacques Brel, or Lal Waterson's own songs, or that amazing new Scott Walker album - music that stands in its own world. Music that isn't in a crazed rush to exist solely in one genre" says Yorkston. We might add to that list the hushed, ineffable bits of John Martyn's One World, Van Morrison's St. Dominic's Preview or Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden. That last one connects directly with this album, because The Year Of the Leopard was produced by former Talk Talk member Paul Webb, alongside the band's acclaimed engineer, Phill Brown. Yorkston approached the team after hearing their understated but enthralling work on Out Of Season, Webb's Rustin' Man album with Beth Gibbons [Portishead].