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In the music spotlight: The Waterboys

Mike Scott has moved from strength to strength during 32 years with his evolving musical vehicle The Waterboys. In the early 80s, he crafted stirring, spiritual pop dubbed “The Big Music” with albums like “This is the Sea” and “A Pagan Place.” Heading toward the 90s, the band reflected Irish roots on classics “Fisherman’s Blues” and “Room to Roam.”

For his new album “Modern Blues,” Scott wanted to craft another new sound for the band. “Destinies Entwined” surges forward with blazing guitar. “November Tale” is sweetened with lush strings. Although some have called this album a return to “The Big Music,” both songs are miles from either the alternative pop or the folk-infused glories of Scott’s past.

“It’s a rock and roll record,” says Scott, who wanted “to make a record with an American feel and swagger. The only return is my using electric guitar on almost every song. Otherwise, this is a new direction for us.”

The Waterboys’ current line-up incorporates American musicians including Memphis organist Brother Paul, featured on songs like “Beautiful Now.” “He carries all this great soul and gospel music around in his heart,” says Scott.

The album is bookended with journey songs seeking truth, love and inner peace. With Scott’s literary bent, the rambling “Long Strange Golden Road” suggests the influence of Jack Kerouac.

“I had just re-read ‘On The Road’ when I wrote ‘Long Strange Golden Road,’ says Scott. “Re-reading ‘On The Road,’ and the world tour I’d just done with The Waterboys fired my travel and journey imagination. That fed into the song. Not so much the specific lyrics, but the spirit of it.”

The bluesy boogie “Still a Freak” struts and snarls. Longtime sideman Steve Wickham takes a raunchy, rocking violin solo that effectively tells the guitar heroes to step aside. Scott describes Wickham’s role as pivotal.

“I dream about Steve Wickham often,” says Scott. “In my dreams, he always seems to represent the camaraderie of bandmates. His and my relationship is the glue that holds the band together, and the community into which new members are drawn.”

Still a Freak” speaks about protecting identity despite pressure to conform. “If someone is mentally and emotionally healthy, they will display a high degree of guiltless individuality,” says Scott. “It may appear threatening or weird to people who are less mentally healthy or free. As that highly evolved freak Willie Nelson says, ‘If you ain’t crazy, there’s something wrong with you.’”

* The Waterboys, 6:30 p.m. May 6, Metro, 329 N Dearborn, (312) 923-2000. Tickets $35+fees (ages 17+over); houseofblues.com.

SPOTIFY playlist: http://bit.ly/WaterboysSPOT

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer. Email: elbel.jeff@gmail.com