The Waterboys: Modern Blues

The Waterboys
Modern Blues
4 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Scottish artists being infatuated with American music is really nothing new. Acts as disparate as Cream’s Jack Bruce, Annie Lennox, Mark Knopfler and 90s popsters Del Amitri have been heavily influenced by US sounds.  

Despite his devotion to Celtic folk, there hasn’t been much traditional American country in Scott’s output since his 1983 debut. That doesn’t change here despite the Music City environment. But Scott has always been about roots and as the disc’s title suggests, he gets a substantial infusion of US blues on this superb outing. Make no mistake though, this is a rock and roll album, as pushing play on track one clearly displays. On “Destinies Entwined” the pulsating bass (courtesy of legendary Muscle Shoals Swamper David Hood), Paul Brown’s propulsive soulful organ and pile driving drums deliver like a knockout punch from a professional boxer as Scott spits out fever dream styled lyrics with a vigor that makes him sound more focused than he has in decades.

Scott has never shied away from plentiful words and he unloads a ton of them in these nine tracks. A booklet is thoughtfully included for those who want to dig deeper. Song titles as varied as “I Can See Elvis” and “The Girl Who Slept for Scotland” are enticing enough and while perhaps cutting a few verses would have made some selections denser, his expansive tendencies have typically been one of Scott’s calling cards.

That concept gets taken to its extreme for the closing 10 ½ minute opus “Long Strange Golden Road.” Here Scott unravels 10 fully loaded verses, including a part about Dean Moriarty’s ghost, against a driving rock backbeat. He may not be Dylan, but Scott has plenty of poetry in his trick bag, most of it worth hearing.

Regardless, it’s the raw, rocking that keeps you locked on songs that never let their grasp weaken. And when the band gels, as they do on nearly every track, it has a similar effect as Neil Young leading Crazy Horse through their paces. Even ballads like “Nearest Thing to Hip” have a hypnotic effect. There are also strains of fellow Irishman Phil Lynott in both Scott’s attention to words and gutsy blues influenced rocking.

This recording might be coming late in Scott’s impressive catalog and even though he has never been less than committed, he sounds completely rejuvenated here. It makes Modern Blues one of his most compelling releases and a potent example of how a change of scenery can unexpectedly yet effectively revitalize a career.

This article was amended from its original version.

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