The folk renaissance is still gathering pace, proving it’s far from a flash-in-the-pan musical trend. Over the past few years folk has spawned innumerable sub-genres from nu-folk to The Decemberists‘ foray into ‘folk-opera’ earlier this year. With this collection of songs James Yorkston & The Big Eyes Family Players may make sense of the confusion for anyone craving a return to folk’s traditional roots.
With the LP’s simple but accurate title of Folk Songs Yorkston gathers together traditional songs and cover versions from the British Isles, together with a Spanish song for good measure. It’s a project that Yorkston has been brewing for several years and it’s presented as a labour of love in a rootsy style in comparison to folk’s current status quo.
His usual band (The Athletes) have been temporarily rested in favour of the more classical sound of The Big Eyes Family Band. Their contribution is undoubtedly one the of album’s strengths, especially on the Spanish interlude Pandeirada De Entrimo.
Elsewhere, the majority of the songs have a distinctly Gaelic feel. These are the sort of songs you can picture being sung in pubs with the music echoing over surrounding lush green hills. The characters collected are an I-Spy of folk music with an assorted bag of fair maidens, highwaymen, soldiers and shrewd poachers appearing throughout the 11 tracks. The subject matter is also familiar; the vivid Rufford Park Poachers is a good example of the heroic common man defying the rich man’s laws.
But while the songs are lovingly chosen, there’s something about the execution that leaves the listener cold at times. The splendid playing of The Big Eyes Family Band seems to be less prominent in the mix than it should be, with the production favouring Yorkston’s vocals a little too much. These are too breathless and deadpan for the material, leaving the soul behind the songs a little lost.
As a result, many of the album’s tales and its various characters wash on over with little staying power and at some stages monotony begins to peer its head around the door. For most of the tracks Yorkston carries the vocal duties on his own, but when he is backed-up with another singer we can glimpse at some of the texture that the album mostly lacks.
Despite its promise then, Folk Songs is one of those albums that fails to live up to the sum of its parts. However, despite its faults, it is still an admirable stab and worth checking out for anyone keen on a back-to-basics approach to folk.