It gave immeasurable pleasure beyond words to see Mike Scott reunited with dextrous fiddler Steve Wickam and Anto Thistlethwaite on sax, returning as the raggle taggle mainstays of the Waterboys during last years "Fishermans' Box" tour. Their gig in Bristol's Colston Hall was a absolute stormer and the nostalgic photo opportunity they presented to the crowd to have your own picture of the band in front of "Spiddal House" was a heartwarming moment. It is good start to 2015 therefore to see Scott and chums back and producing new music (albeit minus Thistlewaite). Add to this the presence of great session men including keyboardist "Brother" Paul Brown and legendary Muscle Shoals bassist David Hood and this new album achieves a very full and satisfying sound.
For "Modern Blues" Scott and co decamped to Nashville with its rich musical heritage and modern musical creativity. It also served to incentivise for as Scott states "I know that across town Jack White's making a record, The Black Keys are making theirs. I like that competitive feeling, it's exciting. It's a spur." The evidence of this "edge" lies in the strength of key songs across the album. Beginning with the rousing funky powerhouse opener "Destinies Entwined" here again is track that which shows that Scott has not given up on his search for the "Big Music". Jump then to the conclusion of the record and you will find one of the best Waterboys songs for years in the 10 minute plus stunner "Long Strange Golden Road" full of Scott's wordy Dylan-esque lyrical imagery referencing Dean Moriarty's ghost and signing off with a blazing guitar/organ finish. Honestly any self respecting Waterboys fan will WANT this song. There other contributions here which will all please long time admirers especially the melodic "November Tale" a song of lovers recalled, whilst the lovely "Girl who Slept for Scotland" is a wonderfully eccentric ballad and proof of Scott's endearing uniqueness. Songs like "Still a Freak" sees him reflecting on middle age in the same way that Neil Young did on "Big Time". It's a noisy horn infested blues workout that shows that this 56 year old has plenty of fire left in his belly. Granted "I can see Elvis" which name checks Jimi Hendrix, Charlie Parker and John Lennon is solid but not very inspiring. More jazz greats are name checked in the "Nearest thing to hip" which thus far is this reviewers least favourite on the album (although perseverance will be applied). Thankfully others like the bitter "Rosalind (you married the wrong guy)" will go down a storm in concert whilst the pop rock of "Beautiful Now" has echoes of the Replacements which by definition means its a great song.
"Modern Blues" is a very accessible and instantly likeable Waterboys album. It is much closer in the overriding musical vibe to "Dream Harder" than it is "Fisherman's Blues". Overall it proves again that Mike Scott is a musical national treasure. His ability to combine the epic with the slightly mad remains an enduring gift to lovers of his music. "Modern blues" cements the huge reputation of a songwriter who really has nothing left to prove. Scott however is not one to rest on his laurels. Praise be unto him.
Review by Red on Black