Music is often born out of heartache. As he has demonstrated in previous endeavours, it’s not unheard of for James Yorkston to throw death, frivolous emotion and downright odd imagery together into the mix in his music. The Fife native again delivers all of the above on I Was a Cat from a Book, though the object of his discord is not the usual absent other half. In the wake of 2008’s When the Haar Rolls In, Yorkston’s daughter was taken seriously ill, and the trauma weighs heavy on his seventh studio album.
Beautiful songs in their own right, ‘Just as Scared’ and album pinnacle ‘The Fire & The Flames’ are made more poignant by this fact. Clearly representative of Yorkston’s strife and cuttingly honest about the fragility of parenthood, I Was a Cat from a Book is a sombre reminder that we’re all human. With refreshed courage, Yorkston exposes and plays with his emotional connection to life around him, showing once again that he is able to put pen to paper in a way that his contemporaries can only dream of.
The resounding message of I Was a Cat from a Book is not, however, hopeless abandonment or resignation at the inevitable. Another string to the wordsmith’s bow is Yorkston’s candid yet positive attitude, as hope and determination to prevail feature throughout the record. This is sometimes flaunted through upbeat, defiant melody that is at odds with the album’s softer moments (‘Border Song’, ‘I Can Take All This’). More effectively it’s found in happy memories set to the delicate instrumentation Yorkston is renowned for (‘A Short Blues’, ‘Sometimes the Act of Giving Love’).
Having successfully tackled an undeniably challenging and personal subject matter, musically I Was a Cat from a Book doesn’t make any notable change in direction. This is James Yorkston doing what James Yorkston does best, and there’s no need for him to meddle with a winning concoction. However, there are moments of the unexpected; namely on the aforementioned ‘Just as Scared’, which strangely echoes the vocal juxtapositions of The Moldy Peaches before launching into a sumptuous chorus with guest vocalist Jill O’Sullivan. Elsewhere Kathryn Williams lends a hand alongside various members of Lamb and the Cinematic Orchestra.
All things considered, that I Was a Cat from a Book doesn’t progress technically is of no consequence. Yorkston is already considered a treasure by fans of the Fence collective, and I Was a Cat from a Book proves he’s long overdue national recognition.
Listen to I Was a Cat from a Book