RAB NOAKES – Welcome To Anniversaryville (Neon Records NEONCD021)

AnniversaryvilleI was delighted to receive a review copy of the new Rab Noakes CD Welcome To Anniversaryville – scheduled for release on the 13th July 2018 – especially as I had previously reviewed and enjoyed his EP The Treatment Tapes. I mention the earlier EP because it was released in the wake of his recovery from tonsillar cancer. It’s good to hear him again sounding so comfortable with his own voice performing an outstanding collection of songs, in the company of a fine assortment of players and singers. The recording session followed his 70/50 in 2017 concert in Glasgow, using the songs and the band from that concert as the jumping-off point for the album.

  1. Rab’s ‘Let The Show Begin’, with its line “there’s no stoppin’ now“, is described as “a remnant reference” to the previous CD: I have to agree that it makes a perfect start to the CD.
  2. ‘It All Joins Up (In The End)’ is appropriately described in the booklet as “a celebration of a ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll lifespan’“, despite having its origins in that slightly dizzying moment when you realize that you’re older than your father was when he died. (Yes, I know that one…) A fine example of Rab’s ability to generate a positive experience from what in other hands might be steeped in sadness.
  3. This new recording of ‘Together Forever’ may bring back happy memories of Lindisfarne, champions of Rab’s songs in the 70s. But if you don’t remember the song from that era, you have a treat in store.
  4. ‘Gently Does It’ is Rab’s song from 1985, a tribute to Alex Campbell, by then a “shadow of his former, formidable self“, urging him to slow down. (Sadly, Alex died a couple of years later.)
  5. ‘Oh Me, Oh My’ recalls (perhaps deliberately) the folk/country crossover feel of later Rick Nelson.
  6. Though a prolific and talented songwriter in his own right, Rab has never been reluctant to cast his nets wider than his own work. In the first few tracks, we see this in the references to ‘We Can Work It Out’ in the second track or to Alex Campbell’s ‘Been On The Road’ in the fourth track, but there are also a few cover versions in this set. ‘Just One Look’ was a 60s hit for co-writer and well-known session singer Doris Troy, though UK readers may remember it better as a hit for the Hollies, among others. Nice backup harmonies here.
  7. ‘TCB (Working Man And Working Woman’ takes a sideswipe at class-ridden British society, recalling the theme of the last verse of his 1970s song ‘Turn A Deaf Ear’ (not included here): “Every peg into its own hole was what he seemed to say/And that no one should go looking for a better place to stay“.
  8. ‘The Handwash Feein’ Market’ also essays a little social content, inspired by the resemblance of the hiring process at his local carwash to the agricultural feeing markets of yesteryear.
  9. ‘Long Black Veil’ is the country ballad first recorded by Lefty Frizzell in the 50s and subsequently recorded by Joan Baez, Johnny Cash and many others.
  10. ‘The Twa Corbies/An Dà Fheammaog’ is a fascinating meld of an ancient and chilling Scots ballad – with Rab singing lead – and a version translated into Scots Gaelic by Seonaidh MacIlleathain, sung by Kathleen MacInnes.
  11. ‘Tramps And Immigrants’ is also performed as a medley of ‘Tramps And Hawkers’ and Dylan’s melodically very similar ‘I Pity The Poor Immigrant’. It works rather well.
  12. ‘Still In Town’ is a classic country song recorded at least twice by Johnny Cash.
  13. ‘A Voice Over My Shoulder’ is another of Rab’s own songs, apparently in remembrance of long-time musical associate Robin McKidd.
  14. ‘Jackson Greyhound’ is a bluesy reminiscence of a 2013 road-trip in the US.
  15. Rab’s song ‘London Town’ rings quite a few bells with me, having lived in and enjoyed a love/hate relationship with the city for some 25 years. However, for me it’s better revisited in song than in person at this point…
  16. ‘Anniversary Song’ is the song by Al Jolson and Saul Chaplin you may know better from its first line, “Oh how we danced on the night we were wed“.
  17. Kathleen MacInnes takes lead vocals on the country classic ‘Tennessee Waltz’: this was the encore at the concert, and is, as Rab notes, “the ideal way to close this album.

While his vocals here are not as strong as I remember from the 70s, this is an excellent album. After all, any album that includes Rab Noakes songs is fine by me, and the covers have their usual idiosyncratic charm. And the band is very good indeed: not in terms of show-stopping ‘look-at-me’ solos, but exactly the right vocal and instrumental support for a fine and varied selection of songs.

David Harley

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Artist’s website: www.rabnoakes.com

‘Together Forever’ – live but not too long ago: