Album reviews: The Waterboys | The Black Keys | Jill Jackson

Mike Scott may be without longtime fiddler foil Steve Wickham on the latest Waterboys album, but he still deploys the freewheeling jam band approach of old, writes Fiona Shepherd

Mike Scott PIC: Christian Tierney

The Waterboys: All Souls Hill (Cooking Vinyl) ***

The Black Keys: Dropout Boogie (Nonesuch Records) ****

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Jill Jackson: Yours Aye (self-released) ***

Like his forebears Van Morrison and Neil Young, Mike Scott does not let the grass grow under his feet in his drive to send new music out into the world. All Souls Hill follows hot on the heels of and in a similar patchwork vein to The Waterboys’ previous album Good Luck Seeker, with loops and samples as much a part of the process as the freewheeling jam band approach of old.

In a loss akin to the departure of a lead guitarist, longtime fiddler foil Steve Wickham has stepped back from his focal role in the band, with the door open to return in the future. Producer Simon Dine, meanwhile, steps up to help complete work he had begun on some instrumental recordings, which Scott rediscovered during lockdown and used as a spur for this latest collection.

Many of the key Scott signatures are present on the title track, not least a playful Pan-like mischief and a love of lore, garlanded here with pizzicato strings, slide guitar, and high-pitched harpy-like backing vocals. There’s a storm brewing on The Liar, a stealthy tale of pandemic political madness told in the style of a Nordic saga: “the shiny Capitol gates were breached when the liar was impeached”.

Hollywood Blues is likewise rooted in reality but transformed into a work of Dylanesque fabulism with Scott singing in an awed whisper over delicate chiming keyboards and soulful saxophone. And there is further myth-making, this time of a romantic nature, on the pacey love paean Blackberry Girl. “She’s got plans I can only guess, whatever they are, I’m gonna say yes” sings Scott, mirroring his affirmative attitude to music.

The Black Keys PIC: Jim Herrington

Always one to bear witness, Scott makes appreciative mention of fellow musicians on In My Dreams, presents his own adaptation of Once Were Brothers, Robbie Robertson’s elegy for The Band which builds to a burnished blowout and closes the album with a nine-minute version of the US folk standard Passing Through. Its series of encounters with historical figures was originally written in the post-war years by Dick Blakeslee, and later covered by Leonard Cohen. Scott runs with its theme of solidarity and witness, adding a verse on George Floyd to advance the story once more.

The Black Keys are similarly on an easygoing creative roll, writing and recording their eleventh album in a period of just ten days at frontman Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound – a relative eternity next to the day and a half it took to record Delta Kream, their 2021 covers tribute to their favourite hill country blues artists.

The natural chemistry, good medicine and unabashed retro stylings of Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney continues to flow on Dropout Boogie, named after a Captain Beefheart song. Wild Child is slick but immensely groovy blues rock with a soulful edge, It Ain’t Over smooth funk rock with a beseeching vocal, while For the Love of Money is closer to the open tunings and unvarnished blues boogie of Delta Kream. But there is room for manoeuvre in this tight two-piece, not least a welcome cameo from ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons on Good Love, which is carved from a longer low-slung fuzzed-up jam.

Former Speedway vocalist Jill Jackson has found her niche in country, drafting in fellow roots ramblers, including producer Boo Hewerdine and fiddler John McCusker, for her latest self-released album. Yours Aye ranges from the bluegrass of gentle maternal meditation Baby Chicken to the sumptuous pedal steel waltz Standing Still/Valsa Gaoth Dobhair via an epistolary title track inspired by her grandfather’s experiences during World War II.

Jill Jackson PIC: Kris Kesiak

CLASSICAL

Stuart MacRae: Chamber Music (Delphian) *****

The timing of this selective survey of Stuart MacRae’s chamber music by the Hebrides Ensemble is instructive. Something happened to the now 46-year-old composer’s music over the past decade, coinciding with his fruitful ventures into opera, that witnessed a perceptible shift in style from exploratory introspection to emotive insight and confident linguistic maturity. There’s a sense of that distinction here, in examples stretching from the gestural simplicity of Tol-Pedn of 1999, in which MacRae himself plays percussion, to the effervescent wonderment of Ursa Minor, written for this recording and inspired by nighttime walks during lockdown. Rich, responsive performances do full justice to these and other works. The improvisatory musings of two solo piano works played by James Willshire are both wistful and unpretentious, while there’s a powerful, operatic charge to I Am Prometheus and Parable, featuring tenor Joshua Elliott and baritone Marcus Farnsworth respectively. Ken Walton

JAZZ

Vincent Peirani: Jokers (ACT) ****

An accordion-led album that leads off with Marilyn Manson’s This Is the New Sh*t defies not only genre but any conventional expectations, as French accordionist extraordinaire Vincent Peirani, whose métier encompass everything from jazz and chanson to Led Zeppelin, teams up with Italian guitarist Federico Casagrande and Israeli drummer Ziv Ravitz. The album veers through grungy jazz-rock, Gallic café strains and cinematic sweep, the Manson cover opening with spooky nursery chimes before uncompromising drums and guitar join the accordionist in a sort of demented tango. The chain gang shuffle and lusty chorusing of Bishop Briggs’s hit River give way to the wistful drift of Les Larmes de Syr, building then ebbing like the tide, while darting accordion phrases and fairground sounds illuminate Circus of Light. In contrast, the Nine Inch Nails' Copy of A pulses and sizzles with pummelling drums and electronic howls. Jimmy Shand this ain’t. Jim Gilchrist