Monday, November 26, 2012


If this is your first encounter with Glaswegian singer-songwriter Yusuf Azak, your initial reaction may be who has cruelly committed this poor emphysema sufferer to tape? Yes his distinctive husky rasps, often double-tracked to emphasise the breathless wheeziness, may take a moment to adjust to, but once you've done this you'll find a man not only in rude health but definitely worth spending time listening to. Also if this is your first listen to Azak, this is actually his second album in addition to (at least) two EPs. But where you start is less important. Because in many ways “Go Native” is only a notional development to “Turn On The Long Wire”; “lighter, cleaner and more straightforward” as label Song, By Toad puts it.

Solo guitarists can fall into two distinct camps - intricate finger-picking folkies keeping it clean and authentic or those who drape everything in loops and effects and multi-instrumental trickery. As with his debut long-player Azak steers his own particular course between these poles.

‘(I Would Sooner) Fade To Love’ on the one hand is as sparse as an antique Alan Lomax folk-blues recording. ‘American Eyes’ on the other has a honey-golden glide to it created by a restrained string section-like hum behind the sharply plucked, acoustic guitar and the double- (treble-?) tracked vocals which create a cotton-wool embrace. ‘Sanctuary’ has an engaging elegance with the acoustic guitar rolled in with aching violin, and ripples of concert grand piano. Yusuf Azak doesn’t often sound like a man smiling when singing in his thoughtful knotted brow kind of way but I challenge you, once you’ve embraced that vocal style, not to be heart-warmed by the resonant yearning of ‘Smile Tactics’ or the mellotron-like friendliness of ‘Immunity Or Rescue’ or the relaxed swing of ‘Move Me Starlet’ even though the latter is quite lyrically cryptic.

IMMUNITY OR RESCUE from Salome Oggenfuss on Vimeo.

It’s a doom-sayer’s view / salvation is nil” is the opening couplet of the title song; the following tune ‘Losing My Aim’ dances around a complex, cloudy relationship (“I’m the enemy, you’re my saviour”) but even this pair sonically never sound overly gloomy. Intense pregnant pauses and with some wild gypsy violin in the former yes but both are curiously captivating rather than engaged in certificated hopelessness.

“Go Native” feels a more confident as well as cleaner record – it is still relatively brief at 34 minutes but several of its eleven tracks leisurely stretch to 4 minutes and it adds two tracks and seven minutes to its predecessor’s running time. Like-minded and familiar to its forerunner it is true but on balance maybe the first-time listener should here. Sadly I suspect there are too many first-time listeners to Yusuf Azak out there. Please help rectify this – wherever you start.

Yusuf Azak Go Native [BUY]

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