The Waterboys: All Souls Hill [Album Review]

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The Waterboys
All Souls Hill
Cooking Vinyl [2022]

Just a year short of 4 decades since Mike Scott introduced The Waterboys on its eponymous debut, the singer/songwriter best known for giving the world “The Whole of the Moon, continues to expand on his vision for “The Big Music.” A Scot by birth, Scott comes by his interest in Celtic folk/rock traditions quite honestly, but in recent years has expanded beyond traditional organic acoustic folk and electric rock instrumentation to incorporate hip-hop techniques that includes loops, synth sequencers, and the works. Here on The Waterboys’ 17th studio album, All Souls Hill, Scott collaborates with producer Simon Dine, best known for work with Paul Weller. Dine had contributed on “And There’s Love” on The Waterboys’ 2019 release, Where the Action Is, but here he co-writes and co-produces with Scott on all but two of the album’s 9 tracks.

The album opens with the title track, a lush musical mix of the band’s traditional instrumentation with Dine’s synth atmospherics, a mythic reflection on the all too real experience of mortality in Scott’s lyrics: “Call it strange: we live, we die/All may change in the wink of an eye.” From that expansive view, “The Liar” turns to the very tangible events of the U.S.’s 2020 election and the January 6 riot, when “Conspiracy crazies raved and howled/The shining Capitol gates were breached/When the liar was impeached.” And so it goes, life’s curious ironies, from the sublime to the ridiculous, both on Scott’s mind.

“The Southern Moon,” always mysterious and worthy of appreciation, together with “Blackberry Girl,” a tribute to “the woman I love,” remain consistent sources of inspiration and delight, but when Scott examines life as we live it, he gets the “bust up, broke down, burned out ‘Hollywood Blues’.” He works with Dine for the more elevated atmospherics, but turns to his current band-mates James Hallawell, Aongus Ralston, and Ralph Salmins, to lock down the groove for a soulful sax solo by Pee Wee Ellis.

Dine is back providing the spacy atmospherics for Scott’s rumination on the musicians that he says populate “In My Dreams,” celebrating the likes of the Stones, David Bowie, Sly Stone, Amy Winehouse, and Iggy Pop, before declaring that “my young self broke through/and made all my choices.” Next Scott and Hallawell take on a cover of Robbie Robertson’s “Once Were Brothers,” his ode to The Band and its last waltz, where “there’ll be no revival, no velvet encore/once were brothers, brothers no more.” Scott adds a lyric about being the “last man standing when all the others are gone.”

Dine and Scott then offer a look at the musician’s life in “Here We Go Again,” unpacking the repetitive nature of the touring life. There’s a fun lyric about a heckler badgering Neil (assumedly) Young, because “all the songs sound the same.” Then to close things out, Scott takes on a traditional folk song about our mortality, “Passing Through.” This song, and several more here, find Scott in Dylan mode, painting a picture of our human struggle with nods to Genesis’ “Adam,” Jesus, Will Shakespeare, Sitting Bull, MLK, and adds a verse on the death of George Floyd, which fueled the Black Lives Matter marches of the summer of 2020. The song leans hard into the Gospel music chorus with a soulful choir taking the 9-minute folk jam straight to church.

Simon Dine provides a curious musical foil for Scott, adding another album of strong songs to The Waterboy’s legacy, but finally it’s Scott alone who remains the prominent voice, and his lyrics continue to inspire the biggest connection to these songs. The band is currently touring the U.S., bringing the social commentary and cosmic consciousness of All Souls Hill to audiences no doubt eager to hear Scott and company bring the big music to life.

“The Liar” / “Hollywood Blues” / “Blackberry Girl”

Daniel Lanois / Bob Dylan / Paul Weller

Where The Action Is (2019)

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Brian Q. Newcomb

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