Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#887 in the Series) is The Waterboys, Fisherman’s Box: The Complete Fisherman’s Blues Sessions 1986-1988
This may be one of the more interesting box sets of the year – a year that has already seen many. They have been some really great ones and some that I have to shake my head and wonder if there was really a need for that. They have come in all shapes and l sizes. There have been career spanning Boxes by Stephen Stills and Duane Allman, Re-releases of several artists entire discographies and a number of deluxe sets expanding albums of long ago such as Nirvana’s 20th anniversary release of In Utero, Van Morrison’s Deluxe Moondance and Dylan’s Another Self Portrait.
The problem with most box sets to me is that they are pretty unimaginative and a lot of money for something that for the most part – if you are already a fan – you already have. They might contain a remastered version of the album for the first cd, another cd of live tracks of the album and maybe a few assorted outtakes or demo versions sprinkled in and then an additional Blue-ray or DVD version of the original record as well. That’s too much money with little payoff in my opinion.
That’s not the case with Fisherman’s Box: The Complete Fisherman’s Blues Sessions 1986-1988, not at all. The box is broken up onto six cd’s, each one represents different recording sessions that occurred as the album and The Waterboys themselves grew and matured into a new more acoustic, fiddle and electric mandolin based sound. I think most people hear the name Waterboys and think of some Celtic folk rock group – the sound however was much more diverse .The songs are a mix of country, gospel. Cajun with some interesting covers and of course a great deal of new originals. There is some pretty serious music here as well as someone off tunes that were nothing but fun for the boys to play.
The band was changing and growing – from the more rock oriented band of the first few discs – the sound begin to change with the addition of Anthony Thistlethwaite on the mandolin and Steve Wickham on the fiddle. The album credits more than a dozen additional musicians and singers on the record as well.
The recording sessions took place over two years and ranged from Dublin in early 1986 to San Francisco at the end of that year. They began recording in Dublin again the following spring and summer. At some point during those sessions Leader Michael Scott moved to Scotland and set up a recording studio in his home. The entire last disc was recorded there in the spring of 1988. From all of those sessions the final version of Fisherman’s Blues was assembled and released in October of 1988. As Scott put it in an interview a few years back “We started recording our fourth album in early ’86 and completed it 100 songs and 2 years later.”
I’m pretty sure that there are Waterboys fans out there that are jumping up and down and saying this isn’t complete – that there were other tracks – available on bootlegs that are not included –that there are other, longer versions of the same songs that are not included here. In Michael Scott’s book Adventures of a Waterboy, He describes a forty minute blow out of their version of “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” – of which there are only a couple of short pieces in this set-To that I would say, “Lighten up.” There are 121 tracks here and 75 of them have never been released in any form anywhere officially.
… was all recorded on one day in January of 1986. Two of the songs made the final Album. The title song “Fisherman’s Blue’s” (which is neither about Fishermen nor is it a blues song) and the marvelous cover of Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing” with its improvised segue into the Beatles “Blackbird” at the end. This song alone has always been worth the price of admission in my opinion.
What else is from this session? Two great Dylan covers including one of the sweetest versions of “Girl from the North Country” you will ever hear. There is a version of Hank Williams “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry” that would make you think it was originally an Irish drinking song. “Saint’s and Angels” which closes the disc is just such a great song that it’s perplexing to figure out how it wasn’t released on the original disc except that perhaps it’s one of many extended songs and would have been too much too include after Sweet Thing which is similar in tempo and tone. Here though it is a sweet jewel of a song.
… was recorded over the next several months it contains only one song that managed to find its way onto the original album, the wonderful “We Will Not Be Lovers” A seven minute workout that isn’t a minute too long or too short.
Several of the others on this disc were released on other follow up releases including the original release 2cd expanded version and the CD set called “Too Close To Heaven” – an earlier attempt to bring some more of these recordings to everyone’s ears and I think an answer to some of the bootlegs that were circulating at the time.
Highlights of the 23 tracks on second cd include the lilting “My Beautiful Baby” which is not at all about a little baby in anyway. There is also an early version of “Too Close to heaven” This one isn’t as wonderful as the much longer final version of this song but is interesting in its own way. There are some more playful tunes here – “ The Prettiest Girl in Church” and “Let Us Be Drinking and Kissing the Women” sound as if they could be classic Irish bar songs. “Lonesome and a Long Way from Home” is not the Delaney Bramlett song made famous by Eric Clapton but it’s really just a perfect song. Listening to the guys play and sing the classic “ Will the Circle Be unbroken” sends a smile to your face as they rock out the number while still treating it with the reverence the song deserves.
… may be one of the more interesting discs, it was recorded in early December 1986 in Fantasy Studios, California, with producer Bob Johnston, who brought in some studio musicians including the great Jim Keltner to help out. While the sessions were spirited and some of the songs here are just a delight, they did not fit into the spirit of what ended up as the original album. “Too Hot for Cleanhead” and “Blues for Your Baby” are two excellent tracks that are both constantly playing on my iPod now. The highlight of this disc may be the 23-minute version of “Soon as I Get Home.”
… concludes the tracks recorded at Fantasy and adds some tracks from early the next year back in Dublin. Again the band is still searching for their sound that would finalize the album – none of these tracks made it – but they could have made an album all by themselves. The styles are varied the band was going in a lot of different directions as if nothing was off limits… “Rattle My Bones” and “Shiver My Soul” is a Rockabilly rocker, “Cluster’s Blues” is a piano and guitar based very soulful blues number that builds and recedes and builds again. The closing “Higher In Time Symphony” is another extended tour de force for Scott and company.
… was recorded during the spring and summer of 1987 and finds the band coming back into what would later define the Fisherman’s Blues sound – This may be the most varied of all the 6 discs. It contains a number of alternate versions of tracks that made the final disc. It also has the stunning “Higherbound” which sounds to me likes like it is a song that started to refine the band back into the spirit of what would become the final record, It’s a real beauty. The uncut version of “World Party” which was featured on the original is here as well – it’s always been one of my favorite Waterboys tunes.
These sessions from the spring of 1988 comprised what essentially made up the second side of the original LP. The sound was really coming together and all of the influences of the earlier sessions have paid off in the final versions – of Waterboys classics like “When Will We Be Married,” “Has Anybody Here Seen Hank?,” “Dunford’s Fancy” and “The Stolen Child.” The original album ended with a snippet of the Woody Guthrie classic “This Land is Your Land;” here we get a full four and a half minute version. The set closes with three fun tunes – an Irish fiddle tune set to a Bo Diddly beat called “Bo Diddley Was a Caveman,” a final instrumental jam and then another cover of Dylan song. This time it’s “Buckets of Rain” – which starts out sort of tongue and cheek but picks up a groove that is incredibly infectious. After 121 songs – you are left tapping y0ur feet, singing along and smiling.
–– Rob Henry, Bethesda, Maryland USA