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Michael Marra "Posted Sober" Inner City Sound ICS001

Dundee is the most singular of all the Scottish cities. It's the town which gave birth to one of the all-time great song titles, Watt Nichol's "Peeing in the Pea Fields of Dundee". Its Southern approach at night is without an equal: all lit up across the Bridge, it is the nearest thing Britain has to a Lisbon.

And then there's that "Bridge": where else can you be so reminded of your own mortality as you cross one? You see the remnants of the ill-fated rail bridge running parallel with you! And with that disaster, comes Dundee's disastrous poet: William McGonagall , a poet so "bad" he came up the other side as "good" (if you see what I mean).

I could go on about Dundee. How their two football grounds are bizarrely and promiscuously close together; how the PLO flag used to fly above the city when I worked there; how the civic centre so resembles Moscow that the Beeb used it as such for location shooting.

I adore this very rum city. Not least because it is the hometown of that great eccentric Michael Marra. (And when you think about it, there is no other city in Britain he could more appropriately come from.)

This is his sixth album. I seem to have missed the last two. So it was interesting to be able to check him out after a year or three. Particularly interesting, because a friend remarked after his second album that Marra's output was "not very accessible".

Well, I have news for my friend. There is no improvement on that front. But then I guess that the drive toward "accessibility", is hardly at the forefront of Marra's mind. And WHAT a mind he has.

One is tempted to think of him as self-indulgent, but one quickly realises that this fellow marches to a different drummer than the rest of us. His idiosyncratic songs, rarely "work" as songs, and that is why comparisons one always sees of Marra to Tom Waits or Randy Newman, are way off the mark.

Whilst the two Americans have produced their fair share of duds, they have a greater capacity to write a good song. No, with Michael Marra, the person who I always think he bears greatest similarity to, is a fellow Scot, not a Yank.

I refer to that wondrous oddball, Ivor Cutler. They both have this same surreal "take" on life: and a not dissimilar deadpan, other-worldly delivery.

Here, there are 14 self-penned songs. Some miss by a mile, like "Botanic Endgame", which is a song on the Irish "Troubles" wrapped up in a chess game. But even when they "miss", there are invariably a few lines in each "song" that make you realise you are in the presence of a considerable talent.

There is also a little bit of Scots dialect here: indeed, from my scant knowledge of Lowland Scots and the Doric, I would hazard a guess that it is Tayside patois, rather than Scots. (In fact, strike that. From my time staying in Broughty Ferry, I'd reckon that it would be unfamiliar there too: more like Lochee or Blackness street lingo.)

Each song is dedicated to a friend. For instance, "Frida Kahlo's Visit To The Tayside Bar" is for James Howie, RSA. A sort of "Enigma Variations", but Elgar had a deal more in the "melodic gift" department.

But one song ("All To Please Macushla") is indeed very tuneful, and in its way rather fine. Sweet harmony vocals from four female singers.

But the other songs, with their brilliant insights, are a bit like the underground songs of 3 decades ago that I used to need illicit substances to "understand".

So trust me that the following is a compliment and not a cheap shot, when I say, this album called "Posted Sober", is best "Received Drunk"!

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 49 of The Living Tradition magazine.