"Fishermans Blues" on its original release in 1988, marked a significant step away from the grandiose "big music" they had produced for their earlier albums "A Pagan Place "and "This Is The Sea". It was the guest appearance of violinist Steve Wickham on the track "The Pan Within" from "This Is The Sea" that precipitated the bands change of musical direction to a mixture of more organic folk, country and traditional Irish music. Mike Scott had relocated to Dublin after spending time in Ireland with Wickham and it had a profound effect on his writing as he ,by some sort of musical osmosis, drew on the culture and history around him to produce an album that at the time divided the critics but for me ,was and still is, their best album . It is intimate and warm yet still retains the striking romanticism and epic scope of their previous work.
As ever it's the quality of the songs that really raises "Fishermans Blues" to the mezzanine level of brilliance. Though there are covers - A lovely version of Van Morrisons "Sweet Thing"- and an interpretation of a traditional song -"When Will Be Married?" the originals are just fabulous There is also an almost un-bearably poignant setting to music of William Butler Yeats poem "The Stolen Child" sung by Irish vocalist Tomas Mckeown with tender backing by Scott. THis is one of those songs, like The Triffids "Save What You Can" or "The Forgiveness Song "by The Walkabouts that always leaves me with a lump in the throat the size of a pomegranate.
The album revolves around fiddle, violin, mandolin, Hammond organ and is suitably effervescent and for the main part joyous. The title track more or less confirms this within thirty seconds from Scott's first euphoric whoop and the blissfully whirling violin. There is the country tribute to Hank Williams "Has Anyone Here Seen Hank?" and the more traditionally rock strains of "World Party" , co-written with Karl Wallinger, who of course went on to form a band of the same name. The amusingly whimsical "And A Bang On The Ear" is Scott's run down of his former romantic attachments. "Strange Boat" has a hypnotic melody and a more reflective aura, while "When Ye Go Away" is simply a gorgeous lovelorn lament. The highlight though is "We Will Not Be Lovers" which has furious squalls of violin and a Scott vocal bordering on the demonic, the sound of someone trying very hard to convince himself of something he is not entirely sure about.
The extra tracks come from the same recording sessions where the band recorded over 100 masters .Some from those sessions have already seen the light of day on 2002 compilation "Dream Harder" and like that they are a mixed bunch. There are alternate versions of the title track, "When Ye Go Away", here called "Killing My Heart" and "When Will We Be Married" that add little to the definitive versions. Also here are two Dylan covers "Girl Of The North Country", a truly great song and "Nobody Cept You". None of the new songs make you long for their inclusion on the original, in fact they vindicate the initial choice of songs but they are at the very least compelling compliments to the original and as are all the songs from these sessions are wonderfully arranged and performed.
"Fishermans Blues" is an album I never tire of hearing. The sheer joy and contagious brio that the musicians communicate with their playing transcribes itself on the listener and even in its doughtier moments that passion is still tangible. Music this detersive is sadly all too rare. I reiterate, easily The Waterboys finest album, a wind swept salty gem.