Thursday, 16 August 2018
Van Morrison - Down The Road (2002)
Released May 2002
Recorded in Somerset
As I have mentioned in other reviews of Van Morrison's work, after 1997's "The Healing Game" an awful lot of his regularly released output ploughed the now familiar r'n'b furrow. It seemed that every two years or so, Van would pop into a studio and lay down some perfect, upbeat and soulful r'n'b material, virtually in his sleep, and then tour before doing it again. It has been that way for many years now. I am not really complaining, because I like the material. It is also not really for me to ask why - it just is.
This album was released at a time when 75 minute CD albums were de rigeur, perceived as giving maximum value for money. That is all very laudable, but, for me, those albums go on far too long. The Rolling Stones did it, so did Elton John and Bruce Springsteen, and many others - huge bloated albums, track after track, that, "bad in the day" would have been double albums.
All tracks are perfectly acceptable, of course, immaculately played and in superb sound quality, but the album would not have suffered if it had been three or four tracks shorter. It would have made it easier to focus on the material that was there. As it is, I do not play this album too often, subconsciously thinking that it is too long. Of course I could just play half of it, but I am sure you get my point. (aside - Just get on and play it, man!).
Anyway, on to the music - as now seemed traditional, a bluesy upbeat number opened the set in the title track before some familiar bucolic, romantic for the forces of nature Morrison arrived with the lovely, lively and jazzy "Meet Me In The Indian Summer". I have to say that the title track is a killer - great harmonica and a classic, growling Morrison vocal and "Indian Summer" just lifts the spirits. Geraint Watkins' Hammond organ is just irresistible on both these tracks and Van's saxophone on "Summer" really cooks. Jazz is creeping in as an influence on this album, far more so than on other albums. "Steal My Heart Away" is a slow tempo, romantically tender ballad, which some wonderful brass (French horn?) passages and an excellent vocal. Just a lovely track. So melodic.
The jaunty, toe tapping "Hey Mr DJ" was perfect as a single - catchy, slightly rock'n'roll-influenced and eminently singalong. Addictive organ breaks once again and a fetching, rather lisping in places vocal from Van. "Talk Is Cheap" is probably the most authentic blues on here - slow burning grinding beat and excellent harmonica and some suitably gruff vocals. Morrison does this sort of blues so well. I love it. "Choppin' Wood" is a lively, jazzy blues which again points to a slight change in musical direction. "Evening Shadows" is another jazzy number too.
The old Irish reflections are here too, in the delightful country waltz beat of "What Makes The Irish Heart Beat" (hints as to what was to come on 2006's "Pay The Devil") and the nostalgia for the fifties and sixties rears its head in the organ driven blues of "Whatever Happened To PJ Proby?". While ruminating on the music scene in the sixties, (the lyrics are packs full of references) Van also asks "whatever happened to me?".
Van, increasingly, had started to insert a regular moan into his albums, usually about the "music industry", about people "ripping him off" or about life's daily struggle when one is famous. On this album it is present in the otherwise melodic and appealing "Man Has To Struggle". There is nowhere near as much bitterness and bile on this album as on others though. Van is quite peaceful and at one with himself on most of these songs. He really is such a sensitive songwriter. A bit of sentimental nostalgia, as reflected in the cover image, but far less of the frustration with modern life. Don't worry, though, it would be back on "Magic Time" and "Keep It Simple".
"Georgia On My Mind" is a convincing cover version. "Only A Dream" and "The Beauty Of Days Gone By" see Morrison at his most beautifully romantic and sensitive. Nostalgic and thoughtful. "All Work And No Play" was a lively, vibrant jazzy number that hinted at the sort of material that would appear on 2005's jazz-influenced album "Magic Time". "Fast Train" is just a wonderful slice of Morrison soul to close the album. Another truly uplifting cut. Listening to the album again, maybe I am discovering hidden depths. There is more than just r'n'b on here. There are real jazz, country, soul and rock'n'roll influences too. It has been a pleasure to dig this one out again.
- August 16, 2018