On Record – James Yorkston, Nina Persson & The Second Hand Orchestra: The Great White Sea Eagle

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

James Yorkston had no plans for a sequel to his 2021 album with The Second Hand Orchestra – but on writing new songs on his piano, and sharing them with the orchestra’s leader Karl-Jonas Winqvist, they realised the opportunity was ripe for a guest singer to enhance the music – and Winqvist suggested The Cardigans’ singer Nina Persson.

The pairing operated in relatively relaxed conditions, with no overriding concept other than the wish to sing a collection of folk-based songs. The orchestral parts are fresh, semi-improvised by the players on the day of recording.

What’s the music like?

This is a joyous collaboration, one that finds the singers and musicians finishing each other’s sentences as though they have been working together all their lives.

Both Yorkston and Persson are natural storytellers, and from Nina’s first verse on Sam and Jeanie McGreagor, the listener hangs on each tale and musical nuance. As the album progresses we get to know their vulnerable sides, but also some touches of light humour, the two singers bouncing off each other’s musical qualities. Try Mary and you will see how well their voices are matched.

There are singalong refrains in a lot of the songs, with the communal Peter Paulo Van Der Heyden a favourite, and in Keeping Up With The Grandchildren an extended guitar soliloquy to complement the vulnerable vocals. Most of the songs have the sort of childlike simplicity you might associate with folk music at its most raw, but the arrangements can propel these through unexpectedly complex forms, as they do in The Heavy Lyric Police.

As for The Second Hand Orchestra, their fresh contributions are beautifully delivered – notably the violin in An Upturned Crab, and Karl-Jonas Winqvist ensures total respect for the lyrical material throughout, moving from a single, plaintive instrument to the full force of an orchestra rich with woodwind colour.

“This is the time”, they sing on the winsome Hold Out For Love – the most wonderful, singalong moment, where everything is suddenly right with the world.

Does it all work?

Yes – mostly because the collaboration is so unforced, and the music making relaxed. That shouldn’t, however, be mistaken for complacency, for both singers deliver deeply felt songs, their voices ideally matched. The orchestrations are beautiful and consistently rewarding.

Is it recommended?

It is – an ideal match of musicians from the northern territories, doing what they do best – and clearly enjoying it immensely.



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