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

A beautifully absorbing album...

James Yorkston seems to thrive on a challenge. The Scottish songwriter never repeats himself, absorbing new skills on a seemingly daily basis. Recent novel The Book Of The Gaels was an outstanding return to long-form fiction, but he’s keen not to leave music behind. New album ‘The Great White Sea Eagle’ is a fulsome, refreshing, absorbing return, a song cycle marked by subtle shifts in his work, and some notable guests lending their voice.

Seemingly originating from writing sessions behind the piano – an instrument he loves, but doesn’t regard as his primary tool – ‘The Great White Sea Eagle’ is redolent of long days spent watching boats come and go in Cellardyke harbour. An experience marked by patience, the final results are cast in widescreen by the Second Hand Orchestra, while the introduction of Nina Persson offers the album a unique quality.

The two voices – one a Scottish folk mainstay, the other a Swedish pop luminary – intertwine to bold, sometimes dramatic effect. ‘An Upturned Crab’ is an early highlight, it’s nursey rhyme melody boasting an almost baroque prettiness. ‘The Heavy Lyric Police’ is a wonderful excursion, James Yorkston’s masterful word play set in an arrangement that shows the Second Hand Orchestra to their fullest.

The highlights, inevitably, include Nina Persson. An enchanting vocalist, she enlivens ‘Hold Out For Love’ with her presence, while ‘The Harmony’ is sublime, a song that slowly unrolls to form something truly enriching.

Closing statement ‘A Hollow Skeleton Lifts A Heavy Wing’ ends the album on a soft note, before rousing itself to become something defiant. A song that shouldn’t be absorbed too quickly, it seems to stand as a microcosm for the project as a whole; a work of real refinement, ‘The Great White Sea Eagle’ is peppered with jewels.

8/10

Words: Robin Murray

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