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Artist Richard Youngs Al­bum Mem­ory Ain’t No De­cay La­bel Way­side & Wood­land

★★★★☆ As many mu­si­cians fret, vac­il­late and self-med­i­cate their way out of ac­tu­ally writ­ing their next record, Richard Youngs just gets on with it. The Scot­land-based singer-song­writer, op­er­at­ing since the early 90s, has re­leased 17 al­bums in the past two years alone (not in­clud­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions such as the bril­liant Scot­tish disco su­per­group Amor) and has three more out this month, with Mem­ory Ain’t No De­cay joined soon by On­der/St­room, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Dutch elec­tronic pro­duc­ers Frans de Waard and Peter Jo­han Nÿ­land, and an­other solo al­bum, Dis­si­dent. His qua­ver­ing yet stri­dent voice is a bright sil­ver thread through Bri­tish mu­sic; his singing style, some­where be­tween con­ver­sa­tion and bene­dic­tion, re­calls ev­ery­thing from sea shanties to Gaelic psalm singing, Mark E Smith to the Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan. The neat­est de­scrip­tion of him prob­a­bly comes in the ti­tle of his 2005 al­bum The Naive Shaman.

Mem­ory Ain’t No De­cay’s three songs be­gin with the 15-minute stun­ner Edge of Every­where. A blues gui­tar scratches rhyth­mi­cally un­der a softer, echo-treated elec­tric line, a com­bi­na­tion that would be al­most Balearic if it didn’t keep trip­ping up and go­ing out of time – a tech­nique that keeps the song con­stantly alive and alert. Youngs gives it one of his more spir­i­tual vo­cal lines, even slightly rem­i­nis­cent of de­vo­tional Pun­jabi singing. Still Learn­ing is pow­ered by a strummed gui­tar line that scans as generic on first lis­ten, but ex­tended over 11 min­utes, its camp­fire fa­mil­iar­ity be­comes lulling, even med­i­ta­tive, topped with a kindly song from Youngs. The shorter Not My Eyes has an un­cer­tain mass of bass tones and fin­ger­pick­ing held to­gether by steady pluck­ing. Charged by Way­side & Wood­land’s la­bel head to con­sider the vogu­ish psy­cho­geo­graph­i­cal con­cept of “edge­lands” – spa­ces be­tween the ur­ban and ru­ral – it would have been easy for Youngs to lapse into bland won­der­ment, but he ends up af­firm­ing that na­ture is both beau­ti­ful and im­pul­sive.

Is it a ma­jor re­lease? Well, no, and that’s the point. Youngs’ con­stant stream of ex­pres­sion flows against a cul­ture ob­sessed with canons and mas­ter­pieces, and prob­a­bly dooms him to re­main un­der-cher­ished. Ben Beau­mont-Thomas

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