Album reviews: The Waterboys | The Decemberists

Mike Scott of 'The Waterboys' performs at The 2014 Isle of Wight Festival. Picture: Getty

Mike Scott of 'The Waterboys' performs at The 2014 Isle of Wight Festival. Picture: Getty

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A COUPLE of weeks back, when their official Hogmanay engagement at Stirling Castle was cancelled because of high winds, The Waterboys duly whipped up a storm of their own with a spontaneous gig in some cosy local hostelry.

The Waterboys: Modern Blues

Harlequin and Clown

**

Seizing and capturing a moment is a very Waterboys thing to do.

But how does a band do that on their 11th album? Ostensibly by mixing it up again. The Waterboys have been revisiting their past to some degree in recent times, celebrating the 25th anniversary of their biggest album Fisherman’s Blues with some intuitive shows. Recapturing a moment, if you like.

Following this bout of quasi-nostalgia, main man Mike Scott, inset, high-tailed it to Nashville, took fiddler Steve Wickham along for the ride and recruited respected Memphis players “Brother” Paul Brown and bassist David Hood, whose CV includes sessions with Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Willie Nelson among others, with the intention of bottling “that performance spirit”.

Where those original Fisherman’s Blues sessions may have drawn deeply on traditional roots, the material they produced captured the freewheeling exuberance in the room. Modern Blues, however, is a southern rock affair which sounds more trammelled by tradition, as if Scott and ensemble couldn’t help but fall into that American bar blues pattern – Destinies Entwined features lead guitar licks straight out of the classic 1970s rock handbook, while the cautionary prowling blues Rosalind (You Married the Wrong Guy) weighs heavily where it could have been atmospheric, even creepy.

Proceedings are somewhat distinguished by Scott’s trademark vocal lilt and lyrical questing. He turns the relationship blues into a sardonic fairytale on The Girl Who Slept for Scotland and applies a twist to the solipsistic blues on the otherwise conventional blues rock strut of Still a Freak. The ten-minute Long Strange Golden Road is a global road trip through a predictable landscape, mixing in mythology and literature along the way.

The Tennessee influence is teased out most pleasingly on November Tale, a typically mellow, rootsy Memphis soul number with a Beatley string arrangement, Scott’s wordy storytelling contrasting with the easygoing backing. But there is also the indulgence of a token Elvis song, I Can See Elvis, on which Scott imagines the King living it up with his dead rock star mates (“John Lennon doing handstands”) before taking it all too far with a brief Elvis impersonation. With Modern Blues, The Waterboys have merely bottled the same old southern spirit.

POP

The Decemberists: What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World

Rough Trade

***

Oregon indie folk ensemble The Decemberists have sneaked up slowly on the mainstream from the outside(r) lane, and play a game of steady darts with their seventh album. The expansive folk rock ballad Lake Song covers their proggy predilections but they are even more effective when stripped back to acoustic folk basics on the heart-tugging 12/17/12, frontman Colin Meloy’s compassionate response to the Sandy Hook shootings, from which the album’s ambivalent title comes. Elsewhere, however, they simply make the requisite folk pop noises churned out by the inferior bands they have influenced.

Mark Ronson: Uptown Special

Columbia

****

Tough times for anyone resistant to the funky appeal of Mark Ronson’s ubiquitous chart-topper Uptown Funk. Like Pharrell Williams, whose ebullient Happy was doing similar business this time last year, Ronson harks back to the old school for his tasty stew of influences – slinky soul, acid funk, glam electro – which recall the early hip-hop block parties of his native New York. The Uptown Special guest list is discerning – Stevie Wonder and his plaintive harmonica, Bowie’s guitarist of choice, Carlos Alomar, jazz pianist and co-producer Jeff Bhasker, Glaswegian electro producer Hudson Mohawke, Kevin Parker of trippy psych rockers Tame Impala on the California dreamy interludes and, most unexpectedly, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon on lyrics. That, it transpires, is how to party. FIONA SHEPHERD

CLASSICAL

John Kitchen: The Usher Hall Organ Vol II

Delphian

****

As resident organist of the Usher Hall, John Kitchen has established himself, through his wildly eclectic programming, as a latter-day WT Best. The tracklist of his latest solo disc swings fearlessly between the vintage integrity of Bach’s epic Passacaglia and Fugue and part of Widor’s Symphony No 5 (not just the well-worn “Toccata”) to a lighter extreme that ranges from SS Wesley’s sugary Holsworthy Church Bells (with real bell effects) and colourful transcription of MacCunn’s The Land of the Mountain and the Flood, to Clifton Hughes’ Dance Variations on Rudolph the red-nose reindeer, which plays on the amazing coincidence that its familiar tune fits perfectly as a counterpoint to the Sailor’s Hornpipe. If some of that sounds a tad cheesy, be assured, Kitchen never sinks beneath the bounds of good taste. KEN WALTON

JAZZ

Eddie Thompson: In The USA

Hep Records

***

Like his compatriot and fellow blind pianist George Shearing, Eddie Thompson spent part of his career in New York, and recorded the two trio sessions gathered here in the first year of that decade-long stay, in late 1962 and early 1963. They feature the pianist in relaxed and inventive form on a mix of standard tunes and his own in-the-idiom compositions, the latter including the effervescent Home Brew and Mood for Teachers (inspired by the whisky brand rather than the profession). Nothing revelatory here – he was never an innovator, but was a fine technician and inventive improviser, and these dates with bassist Ron Lundberg and drummer Lou Berryman are well worth exhuming. The disc is rounded out with five solo performances informally recorded at a social gathering in California during a tour with a British All-Star Group in 1975. KENNY MATHIESON

FOLK

Treacherous Orchestra: Grind

Reveal Records

****

THE intimidating-looking steel-toothed blacksmith on the cover may suggest a death metal album; in fact, what is forged here is a near-continuous stream of Scottish country trance music. The 11-strong Treacherous Orchestra, comprising such tried and tested instrumentalists as Ali Hutton and Ross Ainslie on pipes, fiddler Adam Sutherland and bassist Duncan Lyall (and augmented by a further string trio), open with the gently ascending chords of The Long Count, but soon the whole outfit is spindizzying headlong into a stramash of whistles and fiddles underpinned by gutsy electric guitar.

They continue largely at much the same lick, breaking off with split-second timing to allow smaller groupings or individuals to sound through, such as the flickering twin pipes of Hounds, or the eerie string wailings of The Sly One. The title track is particularly impressive, a pibroch-style theme echoing over drones and shimmerings before the beats are cranked up once again.

It can get a bit unremitting at times, but also hypnotically irresistible. JIM GILCHRIST

WORLD

The Rough Guide to Fado Legends

Rough Guides

****

Celeste Rodrigues – sister of the incomparable Maria, and now 91 – is almost the sole survivor of fado’s golden age, and on this recording, compiled by her film-maker grandson Diogo Varela Silva, she takes her place alongside a glittering throng of other stars. Here are Armendinho and the gentle Alfredo Marceneiro, Antonio Dos Santos and Carlos Ramos, Fernanda Maria and Tristao Da Silva. The now-usual Rough Guide bonus disc is on this occasion an album from Katia Guerreiro, representing fado’s future with a sumptuously velvety sound. MICHAEL CHURCH

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