Four years on from When the Haar Rolls In -- the East Fife, Scotland-born artist’s previous album of self-penned material -- I Was a Cat from a Book finds the creative and ever exploratory James Yorkston in pensive mood following his young daughter’s recovery from a serious illness. Named after her description of a vivid dream, it contains some of Yorkston’s most honest and soul-searching lyrics to date and directly follows the ten-year anniversary of his acclaimed debut, 2002’s Moving Up Country. While the journey from Country to Haar saw him develop from a tentative but assured bedsit romantic to the accomplished Dylanesque lyricist of the latter album’s title track, here it’s Yorkston’s controlled and masterful lightness of touch which helps him deal with topics that could have felt overly intense in the hands of others. Recorded -- like each of his previous long-players -- at the familiar Bryn Derwen Studios, his North Wales studio of choice, on this release he is joined by a new cast of musicians including Lamb’s Jon Thorne on double-bass and the Cinematic Orchestra’s Luke Flowers on drums. When these two players effortlessly lock in with John Ellis’ piano on the tender opener “Catch,” it’s clear that the trio are more than comfortable in each other’s company. There’s a timeless quality to the instrumental breaks of this track in particular that recalls Island Records’ folk-meets-jazz albums of the early ‘70s such as Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter. However, by the time you’ve heard the brooding Kathryn Williams collaboration -- the functionally titled “Kath with Rhodes” -- and the breakneck-speed “Border Song” -- it’s also clear that you're listening to an artist who is willing to take risks. There’s a thread of anger that runs through these songs, but this is curtailed and tempered by the many lyrical declarations of fear that arise on tracks such as the Jill O’Sullivan duet “Just as Scared” and the understandably claustrophobic “The Fire and the Flames.” In turn, these ruminations are never overbearing for the listener, as even the gentle, seemingly self-analytical gem “A Short Blues” is instilled with imagery of hope and “nothing but the sun.” Ultimately, in I Was a Cat from a Book, Yorkston has delivered a measured, wise, and life-affirming record, which has the power to inspire.
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AllMusic Review by James Wilkinson