Release Date: Jan 19, 2015
Record label: Kobalt
Scottish artists being infatuated with American music is really nothing new. Acts as disparate as Cream’s Jack Bruce, Annie Lennox, Mark Knopfler and 90s popsters Del Amitri have been heavily influenced by US sounds. Despite his devotion to Celtic folk, there hasn’t been much traditional American country in Scott’s output since his 1983 debut.
Since critics adopted the title of an early single, The Big Music, to describe their mystic brew, the Waterboys have fluctuated between folk and rock. Their 11th album, recorded in Nashville, finds Mike Scott and co evolving once again, adding southern soul to fiery blues with mixed results. The best tracks, such as The Girl Who Slept for Scotland, are a testament to Scott’s storytelling skills.
Mike Scott would argue that there is no distinction between himself and The Waterboys – but this isn’t really a Waterboys LP. What it is, perhaps unconsciously, is a completion of a trilogy of Mike Scott solo albums, started in the 90s with the hopeful acoustics of Bring ’Em All In and the steadfastly rock’n’roll Still Burning… Or perhaps it’s their bitter coda. Recorded in Nashville, on the surface this is Scott kicking loose and delivering a proper ensemble record, bookended with two massive, sprawling rock songs.
“I have heard the Big Music, and I’ll never be the same.” With those words, back in 1984, The Waterboys‘ Mike Scott virtually defined an entire sub-genre of rock music: the sort of music that would eventually evolve to be ‘stadium rock’, embodied by both long-running bands (U2, Simple Minds), and the long-forgotten (Then Jericho anyone?). And, with a classic like The Whole Of The Moon in his back pocket, it was undeniable that Scott had a bit of a knack for The Big Music. To his credit though, Scott has never been satisfied with retreading the same old ground.
I pictured a rainbow; you held it in your hands. No wait, that’s not right: I pictured Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow, and other Eighties rock bands. There, that’s what happened when I listened to Modern Blues, the first album in three years from The Waterboys. Okay Rainbow are not, perhaps, the best analogy here (but fuck letting that stand in the way of a good joke).
Mike Scott decamped to Nashville to inject some authenticity into this decidedly rock ’n’ roll record from the latest incarnation of the Waterboys. The band, which here includes veteran session players and stalwart violinist Steve Wickham, offers a captivating, often determined set of guitar- and organ-driven songs. Despite a propensity for indulgence and a lack of classic Waterboys flavor, the disc reveals a rejuvenated Scott delivering fine songs and deeply connected vocal performances.