The Waterboys – An Appointment with Mr. Yeats

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An Appointment with Mr. Yeats is an oddly titled name for a CD, but in context, it’s fully appropriate. Mike Scott, leader and de facto owner of the group “The Waterboys,” has long admired the poetry of Yeats, notably including his poem “Stolen Child” which Scott set to music on 1988’s Fisherman’s Blues, their high water mark.  Yeats would continue to be an influence on some of Scott’s imagery and diction in later songs.  After a changing cast of band members, sporadic releases, various muses, and 23 years, Scott finally brings the sum of his songwriting and musical experience together for this “Appointment.” 

The CD includes 14 songs, the lyrical content all but verbatim from selected Yeats’ poems. To tackle Ireland’s most famous poet is a challenging task, particularly working with such phrases as “Man-stealer Niamh leant and sighed by Oisin on the grass” or “How can I, that girl standing there, my attention fix on Roman or on Russian or on Spanish politics?”. It’s not always so difficult, but the lyrics do offer the opportunity for Scott to accentuate his pronunciations, a penchant which are too often lost when Brits start to sing.

To be clear, these are not pop songs. Each requires a weighty hand of compositional experience, and Scott proves himself up to the task. “News for the Delphic Oracle” is delivered with an appropriate sense of theater. “Sweet Dancer” offers up a catchy adaptation that fits the poet’s central observation while belying the tragic undertone. “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” is framed amidst a “fuzz fiddle” wildness surrounding Walden’s Pond setting.  Steve Wickham’s fiddle, by the way, is a blessing throughout this recording, as are the many other instruments that lend styles from Irish traditional to more conventional.

“Mad as the Mist and Snow” becomes somewhat repetitive in the refrain, but Scott gets it, allowing a brief jig to devolve into a rocker which speaks to the point of the imagery. Musical irony resurfaces on “September 1913,” featuring a bright piano and acoustic strum while lamenting the sacrifices of Irishmen for the current (circa 1913) state of the nation. Throw in “An Irish Airmen Foresees His Death” and you might understand a sense of the challenge.  Fortunately, Scott includes all of the poems, occasionally with notes, in the CD booklet.

Overall, this CD reminds me of the labor of love that Natalie Merchant captured in 2010’s Leave Your Sleep, itself a precious adaptation of children’s stories set to music. Mr. Yeats captures a similar love of the endeavor. 

Not all is perfect, though. “A Full Moon in March” was a difficult choice that eventually grows on you, vocalist Katie Kim’s beautiful voice is nevertheless blurry in the mix, and not every song necessarily keeps one’s attention. 

And that’s the challenge; this isn’t intended as background music. Like Merchant’s, this CD is best for an audience that wishes to concentrate on the artistry involved, both in the words and their musical interpretation, and to that end, it’s almost perfectly executed.

5 of 5 STARS

 

 

Note: Click HERE for Scott’s comments on each song.

 

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