The pen is mightier than the sword....
Released September 2016
Running time 56.36
If you have stuck with Van Morrison through his career, particularly since the nineties and into the new millennium, there will be nothing to surprise you about this latest album from him. It is, as always, instrumentally and sonically prefect and he just gets into his soulful groove and it washes over you like the first warm bath of autumn. This is one of his most relaxing, gentle-paced albums - still bluesy, jazzy and soulful throughout, however.
1. Let It Rhyme
2. Every Time I See A River
3. Keep Me Singing
4. Out in The Cold Again
5. Memory Lane
6. The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword
7. Holy Guardian Angel
8. Share Your Love With Me
9. In Tiburon
10. Look Beyond The Hill
11. Going Down To Bangor
12. Too Late
13. Caledonia Swing
The opener, Let It Rhyme is beautiful, effortless and possessing of an addictive bass sound over a gently appealing rhythm. Van's voice is deep-ish and full of his intuitive, instinctive soul. Even more laid-back is the smooth Every Time I See A River, which is just lovely, if you like Morrison in this sort of mode. Celtic soul is gently evoked in the intoxicating Keep Me Singing - "my people got soul..". This is very much a song in the early eighties Morrison tradition. As a great nostalgic myself, I love the fact that Morrison lives almost totally in the past. He eschews innovation and experimentation, in the way that artists like David Bowie or Paul Weller have done. Not for him using some dance rhythms, or club sounds and the like. He doesn't know what they are, neither do I. He is satisfied with the blues harmonica, the tenor saxophone, the piano and the stand up jazzy bass. More power to him for doing so. Not that I mind the other approaches, though, I just admire Morrison's steadfastness.
The old self-analysis is still here too, although when he sings "I was Mr. nice guy for way too long..." on Out In The Cold Again you have to wonder if he is really talking about his notoriously irascible self. The song is slow and tender, with a plaintive, understated string and piano backing. It is one of his finest slow ballads for a long time. Memory Lane is a rustic lament about feeling sad about looking into the past too much, funnily enough, as that is what the song reflects so well. He sings of the leaves falling in November and winter coming. No-one evokes the changing of the seasons as beautifully as Van Morrison. He is living calendar as the months come and go. It has a mournful Celtic air to it, too. The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword is an insistent, bluesy jazz number full of bass, organ and some cooking blues guitar. Great stuff.
Holy Guardian Angel slows down the tempo to walking pace initially then it builds up into another one that has echoes of days gone by, this time of 1997's The Healing Game, full of call-and-response backing vocals. Share Your Love With Me is a sixties Bobby Bland and Aretha Franklin cover with rock 'n' roll echoes that again musters up memories of several previous songs in its delivery, even though it is not a Morrison original. In Tiburon has Van reminiscing over his seventies time in California, with lots of name and place checking. It sounds like something from 1973's Hard Nose The Highway and has a lovely saxophone solo. Look Behind The Hill is a smoky, late night jazzy blues, while Going Down To Bangor is a harmonica and blues guitar-drenched repeated verse, authentic blues. This is the best slab of blues on the album.
Too Late is the most soulfully upbeat song on the album and, for me, it has hints of Avalon Sunset's Daring Night about it, while Caledonian Swing, although an instrumental, harks back to the Celtic soul years and also Precious Time from Back On Top. This has very much been an album of looking back, while still carrying on doing what you do best. Nothing wrong with that.