Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Van Morrison - Pay The Devil (2006)


Released March 2006

Recorded in Belfast

Country albums - they've all done one - Elvis Costello, The Byrds, Ringo Starr, even UB40 have dabbled in the hard drinkin', hard divorcin' self-pitying thing. Why not Van Morrison? This album should surprise no-one. Morrison was brought up on Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and the like, along with jazz and the "light programme". This is another way of him revisiting his past, nostalgically, which he loves to do. Like his "Versatile" jazz album and is "Roll With The Punches" blues album, this is very much a labour of love. It goes hand in hand with his collaboration album with Linda Gail Lewis - "You Win Again". The latter, however, is far more lively and Cajun bayou-style in its country than this, far more lachrymose offering. I prefer the duets with Lewis, to be honest, but that is just my own personal taste.

Some commentators (notably one from the BBC, writing on Amazon's page for the album) have mercilessly criticised it, somewhat unfairly in my book. It is what it is. It is Van Morrison singing country standards, and a few of his own tracks written in the same vein. He, as usual, employs a top notch band. The sound and his own delivery is truly superb. The songs sound pretty respectful and authentic covers to me (not that I am familiar with the originals), so the accusation that there is some sort of disrespect involved is preposterous. Morrison is an aficionado of both this style of music and the artists who produced it, that is why he chose to record it.


1. There Stands The Glass
2. Half As Much
3. Things Have Gone To Pieces
4. Big Blue Diamonds
5. Playhouse
6. Your Cheatin' Heart
7. My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
8. Back Street Affair
9. Pay The Devil
10. What Am I Living For?
11. This Has Got To Stop
12. Once A Day
13. More And More
14. Till I Gain Control Again

The songs are often given a bit of a bluesy touch from Morrison, which is not really surprising, so maybe it offends country purists in that respect. There is lots of piano, steel guitar and slide guitar, so if you like that sort of thing you should be pretty well satisfied. There are no horns, which is surprising. Morrison's growling, soulful voice seems to suit the material down to the ground, it has to be said. Just listen to a song like "Big Blue Diamonds" for proof, or the melodious "Half As Much". His own composition, "Playhouse" is far more blues than country, to be honest, with the old blues repetition of lines. Van's own "Pay The Devil" is excellent too. Throughout, though, Van gives these mournful country laments a bluesy touch. "Your Cheatin' Heart" is just perfect, in my book. "Don't You Make Me High" is a tad silly, though. Yes, overall, it is no real substitute for a "proper" Van Morrison album, but it is certainly not a bad occasional listen. Not at all. I like it.


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