JAMES YORKSTON AND THE ATHLETES
"Just Beyond the River"
"Who's Your New Professor?"
With a voice that evokes a hazy shade of blue, Scottish folkie James Yorkston couldn't oversell a song if his life depended on it. He majors in minor-key musings, so much so that most of the music on "Just Beyond the River" is pitched at a whisper.
Yet beginning with the love song "Heron," Yorkston's second solo album exerts a strong pull, partly because Yorkston often sounds as if he's confiding a secret but mostly because the constant ebb and flow of guitar, harmonium, banjo and fiddle keeps tugging away at you. In fact, what sets this CD apart more than anything else, even more so than Yorkston's knack for saying a lot with a few hushed words, is the way the music insinuates itself, slowly but surely, adding string-woven textures, ruffled beats and spiky dissonances along the way. The lyrics don't always survive the mix, but Yorkston, along with his bandmates and producer Kieran Hebden, make up for the lapses with sonic snares.
Similarly low-key is Chicago-bred singer-songwriter Sam Prekop's "Who's Your New Professor" The difference is that Prekop, best known for fronting the Sea and Cake, is more attracted to pop and jazz than neo-folk. At times his crooning tenor and languid meditations suggest a slightly subversive offspring of Michael Franks, an image that's hard to shake when listening to the slow shuffle "Two Dedications" and the muted trumpet-tinted ballad "Chicago People." Mostly, though, Prekop sounds as if he's carved out his own cozy and hip pop niche.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Tuesday at the Black Cat with Brandon Butler.