Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Waterboys 4: Fisherman's Blues

Ever changing and constantly evolving, the fourth Waterboys album shared only a few components to what went before. Recorded over a period of two years, Fisherman’s Blues was built around the core group of Mike Scott, Anthony Thistlethwaite on sax and Steve Wickham on violin, abetted by traditional instruments picked up while immersed in rural Ireland. The combination was inspiring as it is toe-tapping, and it’s gone on to match “The Whole Of The Moon” as the Waterboys’ best work.
The difference is apparent right away, as we’re treated to an acoustic strum, mandolin trill and fiddle pull, in short order, before Scott whoops his way through the title track. Sometimes the simplest songs can be as mesmerizing as any. The fiddle saws frenetically throughout “We Will Not Be Lovers” for a seven-minute attack, given some relief by the quieter Irish blues of “Strange Boat”. Karl Wallinger’s name appears in the writing credits for “World Party”, bridging the connection to his own project. A cover that shouldn’t work but does is what they did to Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing”, given an appropriate homegrown lilt, the drummer keeping a clockwork pace even through the quotes from “Blackbird”.
Side two is even more Gaelic, beginning with a jig or reel called “Jimmy Hickey’s Waltz” on the CD, and moving to the charming romantic reverie of “And A Bang On The Ear”. “Has Anybody Here Seen Hank” is a better title before it’s learned to be about Hank Williams, though the pairing of the traditional “When Will We Be Married” and “When Ye Go Away”, with its sinewy slide guitar, gets things back on track. After a minute or so of “Dunford’s Fancy”, “The Stolen Child” pairs a recited Yeats poem with Scott’s percussive piano for a stirring finish, via a busked epilogue of “This Land Is Your Land”.
Fisherman’s Blues set a bar that Mike Scott would never really attain again. This was acknowledged in 2001 with the release of Too Close To Heaven, containing ten more songs from the sessions, augmented by a further five when it was released as Fisherman’s Blues Part Two in the US. These tracks are more reminiscent of the Big Music than the Celtic mix, and thus a companion in name only. Still, the 12½-minute title track lives up to the moniker of “epic”. (The original album was bolstered with more folky-sounding tracks on a “Collector’s Edition”, only to be outdone for the album’s 25th anniversary by the seven-disc Fisherman’s Box, collecting all of the sessions in chronological order.)

The Waterboys Fisherman’s Blues (1988)—4
2006 Collector’s Edition: same as 1988, plus 14 extra tracks
The Waterboys Fisherman’s Blues Part Two (2001)—3

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review of a great album...wish they could have got there again.