Album Reviews

James Yorkston, Nina Persson & The Second Hand Orchestra – The Great White Sea Eagle

(Domino) UK release date: 13 January 2023

A special collaboration of tender, gentle moments that results in an enchanting and meditative listen

James Yorkston, Nina Persson & The Second Hand Orchestra When artists come together to collaborate there’s no guarantee it’ll be successful. Sometimes the much awaited creative spark may not fully materialise or the end results may not quite stand up to initial expectations. On other occasions however the meeting of minds can truly flourish, resulting in work that matches or even exceeds the previous work of all involved. The uniting of Scottish folk artist James Yorkston, Cardigans singer Nina Persson and Swedish ensemble The Second Hand Orchestra very much falls into the latter.

Yorkston has released albums at a fairly prolific rate over the last two decades and recent years have seen him collaborate with Suhail Yusuf Khan and Jon Thorne on the three Yorkston/Thorne/Khan albums. Persson has kept a lower profile of late, sporadically playing shows with The Cardigans and sharing a solo album, Animal Heart, back in 2014.

The origins of this new collaboration can be traced back to 2021, just after Yorkston’s 2021 album The Wide, Wide River was released. It was during this time that he started to experiment with writing songs on the piano for the first time, as opposed to his usual guitar-based approach. Some of these songs were then shared with Karl-Jonas Winqvist (the leader/conductor of The Second Hand Orchestra and someone Yorkston had previously worked with) and the broader shape of the album began to take shape, including drafting in Nina Persson to contribute additional vocals.

On paper it may not seem the likeliest of combinations but across the 12 songs on The Great White Sea Eagle they complement each other perfectly, Yorkston and Persson sharing a similar softness and deftness of delivery that results in an enchanting and meditative listen. The songs are largely defined by a slowness and patience which it’s tempting to partly attribute to the location of Yorkston’s studio, namely Cellardyke, a scenic village perched on the east coast of Scotland. It’s especially present in songs like A Forestful of Rogues and The Harmony in which time seems to stand still; tender, gentle moments that quietly divert and transport.

Elsewhere, Persson takes the lead on opening track Sam And Jeanie McGreagor amid the barest of musical accompaniment while An Upturned Crab has a mellifluous, baroque chamber folk feel. There are some pleasing upturns in pace along the way, for example in the way Yorkston runs his lyrics into each other on The Heavy Lyric Police or how the piano line in Peter Paulo Van Der Heyden provides a balancing sense of uplift. Similar is found on first single Hold Out For Love which soars like one of the birds referenced in the album’s title, also having an exquisite sweetness courtesy of Persson’s contribution. It also offers further proof of how Yorkston has long specialised in constructing intricate melodies that quickly establish themselves and linger in the consciousness.

On Mary their voices have a remarkable purity and clarity, sounding as fresh as a North Sea wind on a bracing February morning. A Sweetness In You meanwhile is dedicated to Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison, and offers one of the album’s most poignant moments, Yorkston singing “I think of him often as I look out to the sea, and I live by the coast”. The title track shows off Yorkston’s well honed expertise in spoken word, rich in narrative detail and emotional expression. By the time we reach final track A Hollow Skeleton Lifts A Heavy Wing it’s noticeable how familiar the songs already seem to feel, a special quality that confirms the album to be significantly greater than the sum of its individual parts.

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More on James Yorkston
James Yorkston, Nina Persson & The Second Hand Orchestra – The Great White Sea Eagle
Yorkston/ Thorne/ Khan – Everything Sacred
James Yorkston – The Cellardyke Recording And Wassailing Society
James Yorkston – I Was A Cat From A Book
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