The Pearlfishers: Recording and Remembrance

Led by singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist David Scott, The Pearlfishers have been making terrific pop records in the tradition of Brian Wilson, Big Star, and Todd Rundgren since the 1990s. Though part of the same musical wave that spawned the BMX Bandits and Teenage Fanclub, the group never gained the same acclaim as their fellow Scottish bands. Nevertheless, a series of engaging albums have earned their status as “one of Scotland’s best-kept musical secrets.” Their latest album, Making Tapes For Girls, was just released in a variety of formats – including cassette – by the band’s longtime label Marina Records.

The band released their previous album, Love And Other Hopeless Things, in 2019 and the one before that, Open Up Your Colouring Book, five years earlier. If there’s an upside to those intervals between records, it lies in having more time to savor the newest Pearlfishers album while it’s still the latest one. This involves a certain degree of rationalization, but the effort is eminently worthwhile. As a songwriter and arranger, David Scott displays a rare gift for making such meticulous craftsmanship sound effortless.

Like its predecessor, Making Tapes for Girls is a very reflective album. About life and love, of course, but especially about music and its impact on his life, the title song being the obvious case in point. Beyond being the latest of many Pearlfishers tracks that should have been hits, it stands as a heartfelt statement of purpose about the ability of music to convey things you can’t find words for. “I didn’t know how to say the right thing/so I left it to Joni and Paul,” sings Scott, adding “I meant every word they said/ Like it came out of my own head.”

In a recent interview, he conceded that, “I probably didn’t always strike the right note. Because I love sad songs and break-up songs so much I’d want to share them just to share the sheer beauty, the righteous heartbreak of them. But maybe putting ‘For No One,’ ‘Caroline No’ or ‘If You See Me Getting Smaller I’m Leaving’ on mixtapes wasn’t always the smartest move.”

Later in the song, Scott observes that “to share music/is to share meaning”, a manifesto with multiple meanings for him. Beyond the songs of his own that he shares with listeners, he’s acknowledged the music he loves across the Pearlfishers’ records, on songs like “Todd Is God” from 2003’s Sky Meadows or “Womack & Womack” on Up With The Larks in 2007. That element is on broader display here with songs that reference artists ranging from Carole King to The Cocteau Twins, either directly or stylistically.

King’s melancholy, piano-driven approach can be heard in “Put The Baby In The Milk,” with lyrics like, “Everybody gets their day in the rain.” Asked about the origin of that atypical title, David Scott’s explanation expressed a sentiment worthy of the iconic singer-songwriter.

“My eldest granddaughter was a little put out when her baby sister came along. Nothing unusual about that and she is a wonderful big sister now. But she was really just a toddler herself and would get irritated when the wee one was crying. One day she snaps ‘Put the baby in the milk!!!’ I guess meaning, if you give the baby a bottle she’ll stop crying. But it was a great question to start a song. What might that actually mean? And for me, it means surround people with love. It’s a cold world, people need an arm round the shoulder.”

In a similar vein, “The Word Evangeline” artfully celebrates both songs about Evangeline and the person herself.

“Words can heal a heart

And Words can feel so cruel

You’ll certainly be hurt someday

By the careless words of a careless fool”

Other highlights include the delicate “Kisses on the Window,” “The Wild Lives,” and “Until I Knew Happy.” With a groove worthy of the Fleetwood/McVie rhythm section and a striking banjo part by Scott that calls to mind Lindsey Buckingham, the song inverts Fleetwood Mac in charting a path to happiness rather than an implosion. All of them exemplify the reflective tone, an aspect David Scott attributed to circumstance rather than any specific pIan for the record.

“I had a big writing splurge through the lockdown periods in 2020/21 and ended up with about 18 songs. Not something that happens often. But it’s easy to see that an event like that in our world has an effect on what you write about. On something like “When The Sun Comes Back To The West Coast,” I was longing for normality, a return to life but in doing so it sent me back into thinking about my experiences as a 21-year-old guy in the middle of the music industry or touring around the UK and feeling amazed and kind of regretful at the same time. That I’d done all that and maybe didn’t quite appreciate it at the time.”

After the classic pop of “When the Sun Comes Back To The West Coast,” Making Tapes For Girls concludes with the low-key “Sweet Jenny Bluebelle.” With minimal accompaniment beyond the piano, Scott displays another strand of his musical tradition, delivering a piece that could easily have been a traditional folk ballad.

A common thread the song shares with the rest of Making Tapes For Girls is that it inspires the wish that it won’t be another five years until the next Pearlfishers album. In the meantime, the band has given us a dozen new songs worth savoring.

-Don Klees

Fair use image from Making Tapes for Girls


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