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December 8, 2004

{     James Yorkston and the Athletes - Just Beyond the River     }    

Soft, dusky, and posessed of a snug campfire-glow warmth, Beyond the River is also one of the most sophisticated and accomplished acoustic folk albums to emerge from the currently burgeoning scene. The album's complexity is belied by James Yorkston's effortless (almost lazy) vocal delivery, and the simple instrumentation and harmony that are layered into each track. Kieran Hebden's very careful production of the album allows for an astonishing level of depth, lending a very organic and "live" sound to the work. This album also manages the near-impossible neo-folk task of sounding anachronistic yet genuine, sincere, and un-contrived. Avoiding pretense is surprisingly hard to do in this milieu, but Yorkston and company manage to sail right over it with rich, deeply felt hooks and cleverly relevant lyrics. To sound both timeless and contemporary is quite a feat, and this is perhaps Beyond the River's greatest achievement. Listening to the album, I can just as easily imagine myself sitting in a 19th century pub as a modern-day nightclub. Credit is certainly due to Mr. Yorkston, whose whimsical and self-aware lyrics thread easily through tunes that smack of tradition and a universal melodic appeal that his contemporaries in the genre seem to be missing. That's not to say that there isn't an element of the personal here, but it's paired with an accessibility and open-endedness that engenders a real sense of empathy in the listener. Yorkston refreshingly allows us intimacy and insight without the ego. These songs have grown on me like moss on the north side of a tree, and I'm particularly fond of the closing track- the rousing bluesy stomper "The Snow It Melts The Soonest". Other faves include "Shipwreckers" and the nearly baroque "Edward". The combination of banjo/mandolin and violin with xylophone percussion throughout the album sounds alternately Appalachian and Victorian, making for some fascinating listening.

     » Just Beyond the River mini-site
     » Domino Records
     » Buy Just Beyond the River

By Adam in Music

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