How long since you heard a really great new CD?
I'm not talking about something with a couple of decent songs and a truckload of filler. I receive scores of those annually at SiriusXM – many with little thought or notion of originality.
And then you hear an album that floors you and renews your faith in artistry. An Appointment With Mr. Yeats by The Waterboys is such a work.
I've rarely liked Yeats set to music, and I know whereof I speak having tried it myself.
Yeats himself was apparently tone deaf although he obviously heard some stellar notes floating around inside his head. But it's a whole different ballgame getting them down on the page; perhaps that's why he never tried.
Yet what a poet he was! Every syllable is so sublimely calibrated; every poem finely balanced on some exacting fulcrum of taste and truth.
"Poetry should be as cold and passionate as the dawn," he demanded. The problem with such a dictum is that should he have written something of sadness or longing and a composer adds a dash more of the same, then the resultant song risks becoming maudlin and morose.
Mike Scott of The Waterboys avoids this temptation like the plague. For one thing he eschews all forms of the twee folkiness that has tainted so much of Yeats set to music.
Instead he uses a full palette of rock & roll that, dare I say it, not only adds to but often deepens our understanding of Yeats' perfection. Scott shakes the dust of a century from some poems with driving muscular beats, while others he caresses with fine sensitive musical fingers and coaxes forth elements that I had never before noticed.
At times he shouts, occasionally he whispers but even at his most animated there is an odd dispassion in his voice - he instinctively recognize that he must keep a distance for fear of sweeping Mister Yeats' intricate gossamer web of poetry off its inner fulcrum.
Yet he is rarely reverential. He repeats lines and unleashes structures long calcified by tradition and academic mustiness. My God, he even adds a bridge with some fine lyrics to Sweet Dancer that could send purists howling for the hills. Amazingly, if airwaves weren't so corporate controlled he'd have a hit single, for Dancer is as catchy as any Lady Gaga anthem.
And what of standards like Song of Wandering Aengus? Well it glides atop a graceful keyboard, anchored to a steady beat and augmented by an improvised flute on the outro that will keep you searching for your own glimmering girl long after you've located those fabled silver apples of the moon.
The Lake Isle of Inisfree is likewise a delight. Who would have dreamed that the bee-loud glade would shimmer to a restrained blues shuffle made heady by Steve Wickham's pyschedelic fiddling?
It wouldn't surprise me if Let The Earth Bear Witness becomes one of the great rallying cries for human rights. I wasn't familiar with this piece lifted from Yeats' play Cathleen Ní Houlihan but Scott transforms it into an elegy as riveting as it is haunting.
Despite its power I've always had mixed feelings about September 1913. Written at the height of the Dublin Lockout and printed in the Irish Times, I suppose I resented that the sacrifice of the workers led by James Connolly and Jim Larkin goes unmentioned while Yeats righteously rants against what he considers the greater calamities - the emergence of a new "greasy tilled" merchant class and the era's general crassness.
Be that as it may, who would have thought that "Romantic Ireland's dead and gone, it's with O'Leary in the Grave" would make one of the finest rock choruses Iíve heard in many the year.
I'd hold off writing this but given our own insipid times Appointment with Mr. Yeats is unlikely to get the decently funded American release it deserves. So, jump the gun, go to www.mikescottwaterboys.com - and buy this revelatory CD. Believe me, I've only touched the surface; there's genius to be had within.