Album: Roddy Woomble – Lo! Soul review

by Neil Riddell

It is hard to believe that treasured Scottish singer-songwriter Roddy Woomble has – both with his band, Idlewild, and in solo guises – amassed more than 15 albums in a career now spanning quarter of a century

Later this year, pandemic-permitting, will come a celebratory tour to mark Idlewild’s 25th birthday. Woomble has also raided his journals to put together a very readable and honest commemorative book, In the Beginning There Were Answers.

Before that, there is his new solo record, Lo! Soul, which its architect accurately describes as ‘the most unusual record I have made.’ But for anyone fearing some diversion into unlistenable obscurity – worry not. This is an evolution loosely akin to how R.E.M. – always a palpable influence on Idlewild – dialled the guitars down to explore new sounds on their underrated 1998 album, Up.

Put together during lockdown with latter-day Idlewild bandmate and collaborator, Andrew Mitchell, a laid-back ambience holds sway for most of the album’s 36 minutes. But these are concise, fully-realised songs with enough hooks and heft to ensure Lo! Soul is much more than an intriguing curio in Woomble’s swelling back catalogue.

His solo work had already decisively shifted away from the folky hues of the enduringly excellent, My Secret is my Silence, and its immediate successors, and the questing hand of Mitchell (who records to much critical acclaim under the moniker Andrew Wasylyk) is increasingly apparent. Mitchell’s own description of Lo! Soul as ‘dystopian pop’ is not far off the mark – though you could mount an argument for labelling any music composed during 15 months of pandemic as such – with the sunny disposition of Architecture in LA an obvious high point.

Woomble has always been a voracious listener to his peers – recently name-checking inventive new indie touchstones Aldous Harding and Weyes Blood – and this no doubt contributes to his willingness, aged 44, to keep pursuing new territory. While undeniably many sonic miles adrift from most albums dreamed up in the Hebrides, the mellow, often synth-laden material feels like a surprisingly natural fit for one of 21st century Scotland’s most distinctive and assured vocalists.

Lo! Soul adopts an increasingly reflective posture as it nears its conclusion. The sparse and abstract spoken-word, Atlantic Photography, arguably captures the feel and quality of remote island landscapes just as well as the traditional folk music such communities often give birth to.

The more conventional piano backdrop of People Move Out sees Woomble intoning ‘people will always be at the heart of every helping hand’ – an apt sentiment following the disconnectedness of lockdown life – before the plaintive, eerily pretty melody of closer Dead of the Moon has its narrator busy ‘watching patterns turn into something.’  

Check out our interview with Roddy Woomble here, as he discusses art, music, poetry and hope – and finding a home through creativity’s endless possibilities.

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