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Spotlight on: The Cure by the Saw Doctors

Saw Doctors, The Cure

This CD is the first studio album from Celtic folk-rockers the Saw Doctors since their 2001 release, Villains?, making it only their sixth in fifteen years. They have been busy in the meantime, releasing the singles/B-sides collection Play it again, Sham! in 2002 (my introduction to the band) and the concert CD and DVD of Live in Galway in 2004. In that time, there has been a good deal of band-member turnover, but founders, frontmen, and songwriters Davy Carton (lead vocals) and Leo Moran (guitars) still remain, with bassist/saxophonist Anthony Thistlethwaite and drummer Fran Breen (both of whom have played with The Waterboys; Thistlethwaite was a founder) rounding out the rest on The Cure. Keyboardist Derek Murray appears on a few songs but not in the band photos.

Four years is a long wait for new material. Even when I interviewed Moran prior to their concert at the Roxy in Boston in March of 2004, he didn't know when they would get around to making a new record. The plan was to "start recording in May and June and get an album ... out before the end of the year," but as things turned out, they didn't get into the studio until March of 2005, which goes right along with Moran's comment, "It always goes longer than you hope."

Just to get this out of the way immediately, the album does not cover any songs from the band led by Goth poster boy Robert Smith. As guitarist Leo Moran explained in an October, 2005, interview with the Galway Advertiser, "We called the album The Cure as music is supposed to make you feel better." But despite that positive outlook, this album has a much different feel. For the most part, songwriters Moran and Carton are more introspective this time around. "The record is all about hitting middle age," Carton told the Telegram and Gazette (Worcester, MA) this past May. "We're seeing how precious time is ... and we intentionally left out the lighter bits."

The song titles themselves offer a certain mood. You need only look at the listing to see that "Addicted," "If Only," "Vulnerable," and "I'll Say Goodnight" visit some less than celebratory themes. For sure, lyrics like "The darkest clouds were on to me / I'd taken to the bed both day and night" (from the opener "Out for a Smoke") are a far cry from "Oh, mighty, mighty Lord almighty / Off with the collar and off with the nightie" (from Sham's "Howya Julia"). And certainly that cover photo with the lads standing around in a field with a threatening sky overhead does a lot to get the point across.

But The Cure is not a big mope-fest. As people grow and mature so should their songwriting. The same band that embraced the "Where's the Party?" (another cut from Sham) attitude are now embracing concepts like fatherhood ("Your Guitar"), which in turn reminds them of the "Wisdom of Youth" in the form of a power ballad that contains some of the album's best guitar work. Plus, there are some numbers that really let loose and have fun, like "Last Summer in New York" and "Your Guitar," that will sit well with fans of the band's more popular anthems "Hay Wrap," "N17," and "I Useta Lover" -- especially with Thistlethwaite's joyous sax on the former. The dichotomy is that even a hard rocker like "Last Summer in New York" contains lyrics of regret.

There's also the expected ode to Ireland in "Stars over Cloughanover." It fits well in a canon that already contains the classics "Green and Red of Mayo" and "Clare Island." A couple of sad/nostalgic pieces in "Me Without You" and "Going Home" ("this Christmas") are enhanced by the addition of twangy guitar, musically giving a subliminal taste of the past.

If "Funny World" sounds different from the average Saw Doctors tune, it is because it was written by Davy Carton's former Blaze X bandmate, the late Paul Cunniffe. Lamenting time lost, the lyrics are some of the darkest on the album, but with a sense of hope. Violin, cello, and various synthesizers lend a Magical Mystery Tour-era feel to the song, something the straightforward Docs haven't really experimented with before. Fully produced, "Funny World" is definitely a highlight and goes a long way towards administering The Cure.

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2006. Reprinted with permission.

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