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Album Review Welcome anniversary from Rab Noakes

The singer-songwriter's celebration of 50 years as a performer demonstrates why he's such a unique talent, says STEPHEN WRIGHT

Rab Noakes
Welcome to Anniversaryville
(Neon Records)

IF IT’S a good dose of self-affirming defiance that you’re looking for, then Rab Noakes’s 20th solo album, with its Johnny-Rotten-esque front-cover artwork, should do the trick. “There’s no stopping now” chorus of the opening track Let The Show Begin sets out the direction of travel for a blistering 17 tracks on what may well be Noakes's finest ever album.  

With songs like The Handwash Feein’ Market railing against the gig economy, the plight of immigrants and the continuing struggle against racism in the US and elsewhere, this is a man celebrating his 70 years on this planet and half a century as a performer who remains in a hurry for some long overdue changes to our world. And there’s still plenty of time for a couple of murder ballads, some lovely self-penned new and old songs and the exquisite treatment of a few well-known covers.

But there’s the thing. Noakes doesn’t do covers — radical interpretations, at times bordering on the gently insolent, would be a more accurate description.  The sources here include Scots traditional plus a bit of Scots Gaelic, Al Jolson, Doris Troy, Pee Wee King and Marijohn Wilkins.  For Noakes, it’s all about the song, regardless of its provenance.  Put simply, a great song is a great song.

He also finds time to “cover” one of his own songs.  A reworking of the magnificent Jackson Greyhound, a tribute to the Freedom Riders in the 1960s US South — is interpreted here with a battery of unexpected and frankly joyful instrumentation.

A mildly impertinent gang of musicians — 11 in total, plus Noakes — grace this album, all gently caressed by producers John Cavanagh and Stephy Pordage into performances of virtuosity and vitality.  It’s also great to hear Alex Gascoine , a fellow member with Noakes on the Musicians’ Union executive committee, on violin.

As this album further proves, Noakes is a performer rarely troubled by notions of conformity or conventional orthodoxy and, ultimately, Welcome to Anniversaryville stands as a defiant celebration of life in all its glorious imperfections.  

One strongly suspects that there’s plenty more where this comes from.

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