Music review: James Yorkston, Summerhall, Edinburgh

“BIT nervy,” muttered Fife folk songwriter James Yorkston near the beginning of a show which was also the first of a tour to accompany his new record, The Route to the Harmonium. “Still, this one doesn’t have any words, so I should be okay…” It seems unusual to hear Yorkston – an artist with nearly 20 years of recording and performing history behind him – admit to such shyness, even partly in jest, but at the moment it’s a feeling which appears to propel his muse more than ever; a sense of restless, hopeful, insecure questioning of his position in life.

James Yorkston
James Yorkston

James Yorkston, Summerhall, Edinburgh ****

The delicacy of Yorkston’s live arrangement matches that of his understated but emotionally overflowing recordings. He plays guitar and sings, alongside double bassist Jack Thorne and multi-instrumentalist Neill MacColl, and together create a bed of lightly-strummed bass and tremulous, reverberating guitar which creates a rich, transporting context for Yorkston’s warm singing voice, with the occasional diversion into, for example, twanging steel guitar country on Tortoise Regrets Hare or brisk guitar picking on Red Fox.

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In Yorkston’s delicacy there’s great power; in the love-fatigued cynicism of Tender to the Blues and the epic Perthshire travelogue of When the Haar Rolls In; in the thunderous invocation of depression and death on Broken Wave andin the sparse finale of his cover of Erasure’s A Little Respect.

“That was okay, but do you think it was…Jools Holland okay?” he asked, tongue in cheek, the weight of songwriting power on display mocking the need for the telly’s approval.

DAVID POLLOCK