The Waterboys – An Appointment with Mr Yeats

Approaching the first listen of An Appointment with Mr Yeats the new album from The Waterboys, one was not sure what to expect and a sense of uncertainty was in the air before a note was played. It was not so much the fact of only having a passing knowledge of the work of William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet and playwright whose poetry the album is a musical companion and interaction with (Poe and Yeats’ ‘enemy’ Aleister Crowley being more of a taste for this palate), nor from having a respect for but no particular like for previous Waterboys musical offerings that a doubt about the album rose. It was more would this just be music behind a reading of WB Yeats works which with no matter how much passion and emotion came with the words, was like a cold shower to the anticipation. Really one should have known better. With the love, passion, and intent from Waterboys vocalist Mike Scott to bring, in a twenty year labour of love, the words of Irelands cultural son into a merger with respectful and understanding music of his own composition, it was always going to be something more than a simple rendition.

Scott had already brought Yeats poetry to music, writing a musical accompaniment for the classic poem ‘The Stolen Child’ for 1988 Waterboys album Fisherman’s Blues and five years later another poem ‘Love and Death was set to music to appear on the Dream Harder album. Over the years as well as doing the same with poems by Burns, James Stephens, Kenneth Grahame, and George MacDonald, Scott slowly added ‘collaborations’ with Yeats to create a wealth of material which remained a secret until the songs premiered at a series of  Appointment With Mr Yeats concerts in Ireland and Britain in 2010 and early 2011. Now fourteen tracks unveiled then have been given a love and attention in the studio to result in a release that if nothing else should be investigated.

Scott painstakingly worked with all the respect and musical skill at his disposal to create an engaging collection of songs. He shifted through poems finding those that would work with his musical ideas and rather than simply reciting the poems vocally he adapted the poems, removed some passages, changed out of use words replacing with ones to inspire the same emotion, and with understanding created songs with their own identity. They connect to Yeats poetry emotionally but stand alone with their own pride.

The songs are varied and extremely well composed and presented, each giving something different, whether with a rock beat, a folk flow or emotively soaring all have a satisfying effect. Opening track ‘The Hosting Of The Shee’ and probably the favourite here, flows on a pulsating beat that is as dramatic as the song is melodic. With immediate effect it takes the hand and sways in the ear marking straight off that the albums journey would be an intriguing and agreeable one.

The core of the band, Scott, bassist Marc Arciero, James Hallawell on keyboards, and drummer Ralph Salmins were joined on various tracks by fiddler Steve Wickham, Flook flautist Sarah Allen, multi-instrumentalist Kate St. John, Catalan trombonist Blaise Margail, and the stunning voice of Irish singer Katie Kim, who is a revelation on the album. Kim’s first appearance comes on ‘Song Of Wandering Aengus making a great track into an excellent one, her voice a force of beauty. The track swoops and lingers siren like, an aural sunshine warming the senses. The one thing that was not expected nor unwelcome was the thoughts of how much this song and other moments as the album progressed sounded like US band Wall Of Voodoo and its frontman Stan Ridgway’s solo work. The uniqueness of that band coincidently resurrected here.

The songs on the album play their own delights openly with the likes of the soulful ‘A Full Moon In March’, the memorable ‘Sweet Dancer’, and the atmospheric rock pulse of ‘The Lake Isle Of Innisfree with a distinctive bass potency that resonates beyond the ear, leaving more than smiles inside.

The consistency over the album is as expected high, though it has to be said at times without the wonderful voice of Kim to always keep the engagement with the album a certain one, maybe one would just dip into the album more often than giving complete listens each time. Saying that though the album is thoroughly enjoyable and far beyond the expectations going into it. One might not be rushing to check out The Waterboys back catalogue because of it but definitely revisits to An Appointment with Mr Years are guaranteed as well as watching out for a certain Katie Kim and her own musical journey.

RingMaster 22/09/2011

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