The Great White Sea Eagle

Jan 20, 2023
Web Exclusive

By Ian Rushbury


James Yorkston is a bit of a renaissance man. When he’s not carefully crafting modern folk tunes on the Scottish coast and writing books, he’s teaching himself the piano. Like about 70% of the population of the western world, he threw himself into self-improvement during the early stages of lockdown. However, unlike 95% of that 70%, he stuck at it and improved himself.

The Great White Sea Eagle is a still and beautiful collection of songs, with Mr Yorkston’s piano skills well to the forefront. Possibly in an attempt to shift focus from his newly acquired skill, he’s drafted in The Cardigans’ chanteuse Nina Persson. If you thought that highly polished pop and rough hewn rootsy folk would make curious bedfellows then you’d better think again.

Just like on Yorkston’s previous record, The Wide, Wide River, The Second Hand Orchestra play precisely what is needed to bring out the best from his low key but lovely material. The album starts strong with “Sam and Jeanie McGreagor.” Persson’s voice floats sweetly over a beautifully measured arrangement. Rarely has “da de da” sounded so gorgeous. “Keeping Up With the Grandchildren, Yeah” must be in the running for the song title of the year. It also tips its corduroy cap to fellow Scot, Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian, in terms of its vocal delivery. An electric guitar twangs away brightly in the background, while the rest of the band tick along in a most stately fashion.

“The Heavy Lyric Police” builds from Yorkston’s rudimentary piano into a full band arrangement that on occasion threatens to fall apart, but chugs along nicely until it just, sort of, stops. And if that wasn’t enough, “The Great White Sea Eagle” is a spoken word piece that could have been written a hundred years ago. It could have been cheesy and self-indulgent. It isn’t. It’s a bit wonderful.

On The Great White Sea Eagle, Yorkston shows again that he is a significant 21st century songwriter who has chosen the perfect, if unlikely foil of Nina Persson to help realize his compositions. It’s a beautiful, hand made collection of natural and unforced songs to be treasured. (www.jamesyorkston.co.uk)

Author rating: 8/10

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