A long time away from the album business - Spin was their last in 1985, with Robbie Brennan and Greg Boland on board - Scullion are back. As you listen to the ten songs, you think to yourself – who on earth would you compare these three guys to in the great crowd of artists currently pressing on our attentions? And when you include in their number, fiddle-player Caoímhín Ó Raghallaigh who guests, the plot truly thickens.
But it would be unwise to make any comparisons, Scullion always sounded vastly unlike any other Irish band, not to mind consideration of foreign acts. But looking at it another away, Bon Iver would probably be blown away by Scullion, if he chanced to step into one of their rare Dublin gigs. And I think Beth Orton would enjoy herself very much too. Now, that's still not making comparisons, mind, it's just looking through the other end of the telescope.
Long Wave opens with Dream Sailor, gentle in intent, driven by smooth, strumming guitars from Sonny Condell and Robbie Overson, and plangent harmonica from Philip King.
Come Sunday Morning continues in a similar vein, with an interesting weave of backing vocals from one Sidney Pogatchnik and trumpet from Philip King. Party on the Beach is that occasional animal, a Condell song sung by King. It turns on the lyrical conceit of the kiss of sea on sand, while two lovers kiss by the sea. Like other Condell songs on the album, it looks back to the inscrutable, heady time of adolescence. A time that is now past, now out of reach, but that might be got to again, if potent lyrical images can be summoned.
Kings, a song which Sonny has been performing for years - and which indeed features on one of his solo albums – gets a reprise here. It is definitely one of the great Condell songs, which looks to his early youth spent on a farm near Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow.
It is followed here by the moving Lament for Amy, a harmonica instrumental for Amy Winehouse, played from the heart by Philip. Something beautiful that expands through sustained blowing from small, intimate terms. It bears comparison with John Martyn’s solo guitar masterpiece Small Hours.
Rivers Merge is a song whose strange modal curvature reminds one yet again how Condell operates at a delightful chordal angle to proceedings. Then, what do you know, we get King singing a slowed-down version of Fear, which first appeared on Scullion’s 1981 album Balance and Control. Fear used to be a jumpy, yet curiously fluid exercise, driven by Greg Boland's animated, jazz inflections on guitar. Philip sings this nervous, frenetic thing now in an entirely different way. The years of gravid experience discern a new reading of the heady dynamics of party-going, 1980- style.
In My Arms at Last, Robbie’s charming piece of guitar whimsy follows. Learning, the penultimate track, is mysterious and intriguing, lyrically - with its drum references, does it hark back to Condell’s adolescence, when he began to beat out those first rhythms?
The album concludes with the The Whole World Round, a traditional American ballad, of fiddles and bows, of fearful axes and baleful Arkansas woods. Philip kindles it slowly to a flame in a warm bed of atmospherics. Long Wave should be investigated by all who are interested in inventive and imaginative music-making.