Here Be Dragons was a legend printed on ancient maps indicating unknown territories but those who are aware of Glaswegian Jim McAteer will most likely be willing to join him on this quirky and affectionate voyage. A fixture on the local open mic scene, his debut album has been a while in the making with McAteer allowing that he is a born procrastinator so it’s somewhat ironic that it was released on the eve of lockdown. However, it’s eventually made its way to Blabber’n’Smoke HQ and, we have to say, it’s a fine listen.
McAteer’s baritone voice is the first element to hit the listener with the opening song, Talk To Myself, a fine and lazy dip into laidback and languid blues, reminding one of the late Leon Redbone. Elsewhere on the album, McAteer reminds one of Bill Callahan and Robert Fisher and at times he even hints at the lugubrious tones of Jake Thackray – fitting really as some of his songs share Thackray’s odd worldview. You can hear it on In Love With Every Atom which is probably best described as a molecular love song, on the eccentric My Antique Ladies’ Bicycle, a song inspired by a character McAteer used to see riding around Partick on a bike while dressed in ladies clothing, and on the whimsical Wouldn’t That Be Grand?. The latter is a wonderful song given a great performance as McAteer wanders around in a Thurber like daydream, full of unfulfilled romantic bliss while his excellent players offer a dulcet melody which midway through blossoms into a fully-fledged folk bridge.
The band, (Mike Fowler double bass, Patrick Coyle lead guitar, Graham McGeoch and Solvieg Gjul Askvik fiddle, and Stephan Mors drums) excel throughout and add so much to the songs. There’s the country rock swirl of The Everything Thing and the Velvet Underground screech of Troubles Again, the burbling bass and weeping violin on Opening Closed Doors (a song which is reminiscent of Bill Callahan) and the Appalachian hints on I Don’t Know. They approach perfection on McAteer’s bruised love song, Sing Me A Song, in which he wanders into Fred Neil/Tim Hardin territory and they follow him, summoning up memories of Greenwich Village. On his own however McAteer is no slouch as he plays some fine acoustic guitar on What Is On Your Mind? where he admires a girl from afar, a theme revisited on Two Eyes, A Nose, A Mouth, sweetened here by winsome fiddle with fine modal picking towards the end.
Winding up on Brand New Blue, a solo venture with some fine finger picking, McAteer reaffirms his affinity with many of the classic songwriters mentioned above and brings to an end an album which, aside from being a grand listen, offers much food for thought.