Since his debut in 2002, each James Yorkston album has been a semi-structured unspooling of the mind and heart, captained by a host of disparate producers yet threaded together in one lifelong narrative. Each collection is slightly evolved, bearing different sounds, stories, and personnel, but intrinsically connected to his life and personal mythology. As a folksinger, one of Yorkston's talents is to make it sound loose and easy when the truth is that few artists are able to carry on this kind of meaningful and distinctive conversation for so long without wearing out their welcome on the barstool. For his eighth album, the colorfully titled Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society, he recruits Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor to steer the ship with fellow Fife native KT Tunstall weaving her voice throughout this compelling, though quite lengthy, collection. Opening number "Fellow Man" acts as a sort of proclamation, introducing the cast of voices, characters, and even concepts, with the song's refrain "I'm full of love for my fellow man" resurfacing again on the wonderful spoken word depiction of a nosy neighbor, "Guy Fawkes' Signature." Examinations of love, anger, forgiveness, fatherhood, and life in his small Scottish seaside town comprise his lyrical content and are delivered with his typical mix of wit, obscure poeticism, and outright frankness. From the pagan dreamscape of "Red Fox" to the humanity of "The Very Very Best," Yorkston delivers his tales, his problems, his joys, and his observations with an earthy and honest enchantment. As the evocative, Watersons-esque title suggests, Taylor's production presents Cellardyke more as a group recording, with himself and Tunstall providing harmonies and even lead vocals throughout. Fiddles, electric guitar, double bass, percussion, and additional vocals from a crew that includes fellow Fence Collective alum the Pictish Trail and longtime collaborators Jon Thorne and Emma Smith lend to the album's live, familial feeling. Still, this is Yorkston's world and story, and his gently picked guitar and rough-hewn voice provide the heart of yet another fine release.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger