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The Waterboys - All Souls Hill (Album Review)

Friday, 20 May 2022 Written by Graeme Marsh

There’s something not right when an artist can burst onto the scene almost 40 years ago and then disappear without actually going anywhere. Logistically, Mike Scott may have gone from Scotland to Ireland but he’s still churning out music with The Waterboys, and there’s a whole cache of it available from after their 1980s heyday. ‘All Souls Hill’ takes his albums, including solo efforts, into the late teens, but how many of them do you know? Criminally, it’s likely to be few.

His most recent under the Waterboys moniker was ‘Good Luck, Seeker’ from 2020 and it was a cracker, being most memorable for the guitar solo adorning the exquisite My Wanderings in the Weary Land.

There isn’t one defining trait to Scott’s music, but the contributions from fiddler Steve Wickham come close. He’s unusually absent on ‘All Souls Hill’ and the LP, therefore, lacks a core part of the Waterboys sound, but it doesn’t suffer from it. In fact, it frees Scott up to take things in a more eclectic direction.

Producer Simon Dine is a main factor in the tracks that make up ‘All Souls Hill’, having sent Scott numerous lengthy soundscapes to play around with. Once again, Scott’s lyrics feel like an evolution from the day-to-day boredom of most mainstream music, and they are worthy of serious attention alone.

He comes across as something like a people’s poet, such is his ability to use mythological imagery as well as capture what’s going on in his own head, an aspect most evident on the mesmerising spoken word of In My Dreams. Here he recites night-time encounters where “musicians populate my dreams”:  “Amy Winehouse (still alive)” and “Iggy Pop (like an old sly dragon)”.

The brass-infused Blackberry Girl is hideously catchy alongside impressive guitars and bubbly synths, while the mood settles for the serene The Southern Moon, where Scott’s detailed poetry recalls similarly attuned souls such as Nick Cave.

The most intriguing songs on the album, though, come from similar veins. From genteel beginnings, the whisky-soaked Hollywood Blues develops into smoky club atmospherics that lead to a brilliant saxophone solo, while the nine-minute closer Passing Through is the pinnacle as Scott takes us on a rambling gospel-blues tale that traverses history, from Shakespeare to Sitting Bull, and Martin Luther King to George Floyd.

While his previous three albums are, according to Scott, a trilogy of sorts, ‘All Souls Hill’ feels like another natural development. He continues to venture into areas less associated with the Waterboys, so maybe this will come to feel more like a third solo album. But he never fails to entertain, and isn’t that what we all want? If only more people knew.

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