Sunday, 4 October 2020

Van Morrison - Keep Me Singing (2000-2019)




You Win Again (2000)


Let's Talk About Us/You Win Again/Jambalaya/Crazy Arms/Old Black Joe/Think Twice Before You Go/No Way Pedro/A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues/Real Gone Lover/Why Don't You Love Me/Cadillac/Baby (You Got What It Takes)/Boogie Chillen    

"Van Morrison has always been eccentric, but as he grows older, he seems to get more comfortable with his eccentricities and doesn't strain as hard to be distinctive" - Stephen Thomas Erlewine - AllMusic

I love this album. It is a slice of lively, highly enjoyable piano-driven upbeat country rock with a Cajun feel. The piano, of course, is played by Linda Gail Lewis, sister of the great Jerry "Killer" Lee Lewis. She adds some soulful vocals too. Despite a good start to the professional relationship, (they toured the album together, successfully), it would appear, however, that things seemingly soured between the two of them for various reasons and a highly unfortunate, publicised court case (thankfully settled amicably to the satisfaction of both sides) was the eventual outcome. You would never tell there was any bad blood on this album, however, not one tiny bit. The two of them play off each other absolutely perfectly and sound utterly enthusiastic. Musically, they are made for each other - effortless complimenting the other, two voices and piano. The band are top notch too. The whole thing just sounds great.


     
Let's Talk About Us is a totally addictive delight to kick things off. 

You Win Again is a lead-back, steel guitar, lachrymose country ballad, while I defy anyone to still still during their take on Jambalaya

Crazy Arms is back to ballad territory - barroom piano and steel guitar to the fore. 

Old Black Joe is another deliciously exhilarating number, while the blues are visited in Think Twice Before You Go which uses an ever-popular blues riff to great effect. 

No Way Pedro is a steel guitar-driven bluesy country song (actually written by Morrison, his only writing contribution to the album) with Linda's piano (almost) on fire.


Shot Of Rhythm & Blues just bristles with blues rhythm, featuring some excellent, grinding guitar. It is a shame that Van appears to have disowned the album because it is seriously good. 

Real Gone Lover is another toe-tapper, with the two vocalists singing off against each other. I can't state enough just what a pleasure this album is from beginning to end. It is real breath of fresh air. 

Why Don't You Love Me is a country standard that was also covered by Elvis Costello on Almost Blue (although his version was far more frenetic). The version here is more laid-back and mournful, something I feel the song demands.

Cadillac is a breakneck piece of harmless fun. Van even whoops it up a bit on this one, things must have been ok at that point. 

Baby You Got What It Takes uses the Shakin' All Over guitar riff. Linda has some extended vocal parts on this one, with her strangely sexy backwoods country twang enhancing the feel of the track to great effect. 

John Lee Hooker's Boogie Chillen ends the album with "the riff that launched a thousand songs" pumping out to great effect. I cannot recommend this album highly enough. It's great.

Down The Road (2002)


Down The Road/Meet Me In The Indian Summer/Steal My Heart Away/Hey Mr. DJ/Talk Is Cheap/Choppin' Wood/What Makes The Irish Heart Beat/All Work And No Play/Whatever Happened To P.J. Proby?/The Beauty Of Days Gone By/Georgia On My Mind/Only A Dream/Man Has To Struggle/Evening Shadows/Fast Train        

"Every few years, Morrison manages to tap into some magical space that sums up both his career and his influence in one fell swoop - not that they're all that groundbreaking, they're just penultimate pieces of perfection. Such is the case with his latest near-masterpiece 'Down the Road', which finds him fondly recalling the folk, blues, and jazz to which he grew up listening" - John Metzger - The Music Box

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, "back 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 Down The Road 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 while 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.



What's Wrong With This Picture? (2003)


What's Wrong With This Picture?/Whinin' Boy Moan/Evening In June/Too Many Myths/Somerset/Meaning of Loneliness/Stop Drinking/Goldfish Bowl/Once In A Blue Moon/Saint James Infirmary/Little Village/Fame/Get On With The Show      

"This is the sound of self-assurance as it articulates itself with grace and aplomb" - Thom Jurek - AllMusic

Van Morrison went full on down the jazz route with this album, even so far as getting it released on the legendary Blue Note jazz label. There had been hints of jazz leanings in several of his previous albums, but on this one there were several jazz/laid back rock songs. Van can never steer far from the blues, however, and, by the end of the album, I find I feel far more bluesy than jazzy. For me, it is a blues album with quite a few jazz influences.

The opener, What's Wrong With This Picture? fits the description perfectly of a laid-back piece of jazzy rock. It has a firm drum sound, some excellent jazzy guitar, plus a bit of background typical Morrison blues harmonica and a good vocal in which Van even starts laughing at one point. It is clear from the very outset that the musicianship and sound quality is going to be of the highest quality. 

Whining' Boy Moan is a jaunty piece of fifties-sounding jazz, with Richard Dunn's Hammond organ to the fore and Van delivering an enthusiastic, confident jazz vocal before giving us some wailing saxophone. 

Evening In June finds us in more familiar territory - a reflective rhythmic song celebrating nature in a romantic fashion, as Morrison had done on many previous albums. It is far more melodic, slow tempo rock than jazz, although there are jazzy influences in the saxophone backing and the smoky solo.

Just when you thought Van had stopped his griping about this and that - misconceptions about him, the music industry and so on, he gets a little dig in about there being Too Many Myths concerning him that are eating in the way of a relationship. It's all about the pesky "fame game" with Van in these later years. He won't let it rest. No matter, really, as it sounds bluesy impressive and powerful. He could sing the telephone directory over this backing, to be honest, and it would sound good. 

Somerset, however, is a return to a smooth, romantic feeling as Van waxes lyrical about "sipping cider in the shade..." over an addictive saxophone, bass and drum brush backing. It also features the legendary Acker Bilk on clarinet. Kudos for that one. It is a nice, relaxing song. Very chilled out and summery. 

Meaning Of Loneliness continues the quiet ambience with Van ruminating about solitude, frustration and the fact it takes "more than a lifetime to get to know yourself...". There is some delicious saxophone and organ on this one. He still finds time to namecheck philosophers Nietzche and Hesse and then going all "scat" at the end. 

The tempo changes now for the frantic, almost jazz meets skiffle of Stop Drinking - an old blues song about giving up wine and drinking gin and champagne instead. It is an immaculately played piece of upbeat fun. Van is audibly enjoying himself, growling, blowing saxophone, controlling the band effortlessly.

Having to much of a good time, Van? Time for another moan, surely? Here we go - "What will it take for them to leave me alone - I'm just a guy who sings songs..." he complains, going on about living in a Goldfish Bowl and the pitfalls of celebrity. It's a great blues song, for sure, but the message is starting to grate somewhat by now. It's been a feature of most albums since 1991's Hymns To The Silence"I don't have no hit record, I don't have no TV show, so why should I have to live in this goldfish bowl?..." he muses, again and again. I think he does a pretty good job of staying out of the limelight, actually. 

The lively, pleasant Once In A Blue Moon is the obvious commercial song on the album - like the previous Hey Mr DJ and Precious Time). It is a singalong number and most pleasant on the ear.

Over the years, Van has liked the odd "death and illness" song, and he goes us one here now, with a cover of the old blues Saint James Infirmary. He does it brilliantly, full of gravitas and New Orleans blues dignity. Great stuff. 

Little Village has Van going Celtic for the first time on the album, harking back to some of those great seventies/early eighties albums. It is laid-back Celtic soul of the kind he just does so damn well. It builds to a really beautiful climax, certainly one of my favourite tracks on the album. 

One more song about fame? sure, ok. We duly get Fame where Van tells us not to "buy any of that old Andy Warhol guff...". Come on, Van, you love it really. It is another good blues number, though. 

Get On With The Show has a horn intro worthy of Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes and it has a late fifties-style Drifters-style hook and a sumptuous brass backing and a strong soulful vocal, but there is a gripe under all that musical magnificence. Van just wants to be left alone to get on with the show....



Magic Time (2005)


Stranded/Celtic New Year/Keep Mediocrity At Bay/Evening Train/This Love Of Mine/I'm Confessin'/Just Like Greta/Gypsy In My Soul/Lonely And Blue/The Lion This Time/Magic Time/They Sold Me Out/Carry On Regardless    

"You expect to encounter a tired legend, a once-mighty king becalmed and tamed by the miles and years. You find instead an echo of a full-throated roar hanging in the air, the tell-tale signs of a bloody struggle, and an empty cage. The lion in winter is on the loose" - Andy Whitman - Paste

2003's What's Wrong With This Picture? had seen Van Morrison recording on the legendary jazz label Blue Note, although it turned out to be far more of a blues album, to be honest. This new album, from 2005, saw him exploring his jazzy side once more, although, as usual, the blues and soul are never far away. In many ways, though, this is a far jazzier album than the previous one. It is one of the most jazz-orientated albums he has done.
                         
Stranded is a beautiful song to open with, enhanced by Van's saxophone and soulful vocal plus some lovely piano. Celtic New Year is a soul-influenced number that has strong echoes of Morrison's Beautiful Vision material from 1982. I had forgotten just what a lovely track this was. Now, for quite a few tracks we are going to go all jazz, very much so. More so than ever before.

Keep Mediocrity At Bay is a jaunty, jazzy number that sees Van griping about mediocrity over a harmonica and excellent jazz guitar backing. 

Evening Train is great, a frantic beat and packed with big, rumbling bass lines and wailing saxophone. Great stuff. 

This Love Of Mine is jazzier than anything on the previous album - all stand up bass, tenor saxophone and an authentic-sounding lively  jazz vocal from Morrison. 

I'm Confessin' has jazz meeting the blues in a perfect merging of styles. It sounds very fifties and features more sumptuous jazz guitar, something that didn't feature so much before, and some great trumpet too.

Just Like Greta starts in Madame George/Listen To The Lion acoustic style, before Van starts going all introspective and self-examinational, telling us he "needs solitude...", just like Greta Garbo.... We know, Van, you have been telling us for several albums now, but, it has to be said, you tell it so well. 

Gypsy In My Soul is an intoxicatingly rhythmic bluesy number. Lonely And Blue is another bassy, blues/jazz ballad, while The Lion This Time is a mystical revisiting of Listen To The Lion, with some classical string passages. A bit like the original, however, it goes on just a bit too too long.

Magic Time is a typical piece of Van Morrison "take me back" soulful nostalgia at which he is the absolute master. The song as a lovely, relaxing, organ-powered feel. There is some superb harmonica from Van and yet more wonderful guitar from David "Foggy" Little who tragically died soon after recording the album (which is dedicated to him). 

Did you think Van would let the whole album go by without a moan about the evils of the music industry? Of course not. They Sold Me Out is self-explanatory as to how he is feeling. It is lyrically bilious, but, as usual, it is soulful and addictive. "They sold me out for a few shekels more and divided up my robes...". Is Morrison comparing himself to Jesus Christ in his suffering? Surely not. He is you know, between the lines, he really is. 

Carry On Regardless has him belly-aching about "TV trash" and "media re-hash" and how is just going to carry on - quoting several "Carry On" films as he does so, amusingly. It has an excellent shuffling beat to it and even more killer guitar. The track ends with Van laughing, would you believe. He must have enjoyed himself. Great album, however, regardless. Carry on Van.



Pay The Devil (2006)


There Stands The Glass/Half As Much/Things Have Gone To Pieces/Big Blue Diamonds/Playhouse/Your Cheatin' Heart/My Bucket's Got A Hole In It/Back Street Affair/Pay The Devil/What Am I Living For?/This Has Got To Stop/Once A Day/More And More/Till I Gain Control Again 

"There's a sense of fragility and defeat, and it is moving in a way that a Van Morrison song rarely moves the listener. The singer sounds utterly broken down and shaken: 'hold me now, hold me now' he unsteadily repeats 'until I gain control again'. Even Morrison's most emotional material in the past never projected such pretty frailty" - Erik Hage

Country albums - they've all done one - Elvis CostelloThe ByrdsRingo 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.
                       
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, Playhouseis 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.




Keep It Simple (2008)


How Can A Poor Boy/School Of Hard Knocks/That's Entrainment/Don't Go To Nightclubs Anymore/Lover Come Back/Keep It Simple/End Of The Land/Song Of Home/No Thing/Soul/Behind The Ritual          

"Entrainment is when you connect with the music - entrainment is really what I'm getting at in the music. It's kind of when you're in the present moment - you're here - with no past or future" - Van Morrison

This album from Van Morrison is as blue as the cover. It is one of his bluesiest albums. Van has pretty much been a blues rock artist since the mid-nineties, when he settled into that groove, with bits of jazz and country thrown in. That is certainly the case here. His mystical, spiritual quests are long gone now.
                  
It kicks off with a wonderful, slow burning blues potboiler in How Can A Poor Boy?, which is packed full of harmonica and blues guitar over its insistent, intransigent blues rhythm. 

School Of Hard Knocks is a appealing, melodic song with Van telling us that he was "educated in the school of hard knocks...". We know, Van, you've been telling us for a while now. Yes, Morrison doesn't change, not so much out of what is often a cynically-perceived wilful stubbornness, but simply because he doesn't want to. He is comfortable with what he does, and, if you are of a mind to accept it too, so will you be. This effortless bluesy approach is what he is happy doing and, listening to it, it has a "comfortable pair of slippers" feel to it. 

That's Entrainment has such as addictive groove to it. The music is, as always, immaculately played. Personally, I will always get pleasure from these albums.

Van's moaning is not quite as full on here, he rumbles away between the lines here and there, but in not quite so bilious as in the past. Now, he is just an ageing man telling us how he Don't Go To Nightclubs Anymore, in a re-write of the crooner classic Don't Get Out Much Anymore. He is right too, one needs to be "age-appropriate". 

Lover Come Back is a slow ballad with a bit of a Celtic air to it, with a twangy country guitar introduced at one point. 

"We got to keep it simple and that's that....", Van tells us in the gorgeous, soulful Keep It Simple. That's just the way it is. You know, he's got a point. 

The End Of The Land is a slow tempo soul blues, with a sumptuous, deep bass line and an evocative vocal.


Song Of Home is an organ-driven country ballad with some good backing vocals. 

No Thing is a slowed-down number which touches of rock'n'roll balladry in it and some jazzy backing vocals. Like many of the songs on here, they are blues songs with touches of country, like the steel guitar on here, or those rock'n'roll doo-wop style backing vocals, or some jazzy organ breaks. 

Soul has Morrison telling us, convincingly, what soul is, suitably soulfully. He hits that groove and it is most evocative, with a lovely saxophone break from the man himself, and some killer guitar too. 

The album ends on another soul-influenced track, the uplifting, inspiring Behind The Ritual. This is possibly the best track on the album. Morrison's vocal is a bit slurry, but affectingly so. The tone is deliberate. The song builds and builds and it is totally atmospheric. A great end to a good album. Every few years, he has released these albums and, although they don't change much, I love them all.

Incidentally, on the front cover, Van looks somewhat like a cross between the legendary cricket commentator John Arlott and actor Michael "Foyle's War" Kitchen.




Born To Sing: No Plan B (2012)


Open The Door To Your Heart/Goin' Down To Monte Carlo/Born To Sing/End Of The Rainbow/Close Enough For Jazz/Mystic Of The East/Retreat And View/If In Money We Trust/Pagan Heart/Educating Archie                
"....the worldwide preoccupation with money, materialism, income equality, and the greed that has poisoned society" while further remarking: "I’m not proselytizing, it’s not some kind of manifesto. Songs are just ideas, concepts, and you just put the mic there and go" - Van Morrison

It had been four years since Van Morrison had released an album, which, for him, was quite a long sojourn (his longest in his career, in fact).  His albums were now following quite a familiar pattern - bluesy laid-back, sometimes slightly jazzy rock. The old mystical quests and nostalgia for fifties Belfast were in the past now. On the whole, you knew what you were getting now. If you like it, as I do, fair enough, you will always be satisfied. Many people find the "blues rock by numbers" somewhat frustrating and long for a return to the glory of days gone by. I am not sure that will ever happen. What you do get, though, is an artist in total control, effortlessly doing what he now has decided he does best. This album, like 2003's What's Wrong With This Picture?, was released on the legendary Blue Note jazz label. Like that album, this one is also slightly more of a blues album, with jazzy tones, in my view.

Open The Door To Your Heart (not the Northern Soul song) is an appealing soulful piece that smoothly slides along, with the now expected strong vocal from Morrison and top quality backing. 

The jazzy, rhythmic Goin' Down To Monte Carlo (pictured) has irritated some people by its repeated lyrics - "goin' down to Monte Carlo, about 25k from Nice..." is, admittedly repeated many times, but aren't many blues lyrics traditionally related a couple of times? Van moans about "phoney pseudo jazz" being played in a restaurant, however,  as he tries get away from people who are "driving him mad...". You have to laugh a bit, as he plays a jazz-influenced song himself and then proceeds to launch into the oft-repeated old moan about people annoying him again, that he started on 1991's Hymns To The Silence. The track contains some superb stand up solo bass lines and Van delivers a sumptuous saxophone solo. Despite those very minor misgivings, I have to say that I love the track. 

Born To Sing is a bluesy number with some wonderful New Orleans-style saxophone lifting it higher, despite its slightly pedestrian beat.

End Of The Rainbow is a bassy, melodic and beautiful slow number with Van taking issue with the world's financial problems. It contains a beautiful trombone solo and yet again some fine saxophone. It is the sax that gives the album its jazziest flavour. That mood is continued with the jaunty reprise of Close Enough For Jazz from 1993's Too Long In Exile, this time with added lyrics. 

Mystic Of The East has some very typical Morrison soulful tones to it, bringing to mind some of the albums from the eighties and nineties. He now lays down tracks like this so nonchalantly that it is easy to criticise him as if he is not putting in much effort. Personally, I feel that misses the point. He is a master craftsman.


Retreat And View is a laid-back jazzy blues number that just sort of washes over you. Very late-night and relaxing. "Who's got it?" says Van half way through and the trombone solo and then the tenor sax kick in. Beautiful. 

The insistent, shuffling If In Money We Trust is one of his jazziest pieces on the album, with a big clunky piano sound that has shades of South African jazzer Abdullah Ibrahim. It is probably the album's best cut, featuring some addictive bass and percussion and a committed, cynical vocal from Morrison. 

If you had been missing the blues for a while, though, it is back, big time, with the thumping Pagan Heart, with its slow, powerful blues beat and Van going on about "the crossroads..." in true blues styleIt is amazing how many blues numbers re-use the same notes and riffs, but it just doesn't seem to matter. If you like it, you like it.

Educating Archie sees Van ending with a good old moan about the media, individuality, the global elite and so on, over a conventional mid tempo blues backing. It has been a solid album, though, and if you like the sort of material Van Morrison now puts out, of course, you will like this.




Duets: Re-Working The Catalogue (2015)


This is a 2015 compilation of Van Morrison re-visiting some of his old songs with special guest vocalists joining him. It is a most enjoyable album. He doesn't choose his well-known songs, preferring to re-work lesser-known ones which was wise, and he chooses his partners well too.

These are the duets:-

Some Peace Of Mind from Hymns To The Silence - with Bobby Womack. Soulful as you would expect from gravel-voiced Bobby Womack. Nice trumpet solo too.  Van on excellent improvised vocal form at the end.

If I Ever Need Someone from His Band And The Street Choir - with Mavis Staples. Legendary Stax/gospel singer Mavis Staples raises this Celtic soul slow burner from 1970 higher with her by now aged, throaty but still so damn strong vocals. She laughs at one point with the sheer enjoyment of doing it. The pleasure from both of them really comes across.

Higher Than The World from Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart - with George Benson. Jazzy soul guitar virtuoso Benson is a good choice for this mystical airy floaty number from 1983. Benson contributes some trademark jazzy electric guitar superbly. This version outdoes the original. Great saxophone at the end, too.

Wild Honey from Common One - with Joss Stone. Nubile young soulstress Joss Stone tackles this slow, reflective number, again from the mystical, bucolic period. She takes the vocal slightly beneath Morrison's growl and provides a strong sweetness that suits the title. Her strength of vocal lends the song a real soully feel. Again, the backing is superb, as indeed it is on the whole album.

Whatever Happened To P.J. Proby? - from Down The Road - with P.J. Proby. The tight-trousered sixties singer who never quite made it joins Van himself for a song about his descent into obscurity. It is played in smoky jazz club style, with an addictive stand up bass and some jazzy slow drums. Proby's voice is gruff and soulful. It enhances the track well, and it is a most atmospheric rendition.

Carrying A Torch from Hymns To The Silence - with Clare Teal. Instead of Tom Jones, with whom he had duetted this in the past, Van is joined by jazz singer Clare Teal. I love this song anyway but when Clare starts her vocal part it sends shivers down my spine. One of the best duets on the album. Lovely. My goodness this grumpy old man has some soul. This song always makes me somewhat tearful.

The Eternal Kansas City from A Period Of Transition - with Gregory Porter. Contemporary jazz singer Gregory Porter is on vocal duty here. A great bass intro is followed by some sumptuous, punchy brass. Porter's strong, soully voice adds gravitas to a performance that improves considerably on the original. There is a "hard bop" style jazzy solo part in the middle.

Streets Of Arklow from Veedon Fleece - with Mick Hucknall. Flame-haired Simply Red singer features on this mystical, Celtic number from 1974. The mysterious feeling of the original is maintained as the flute swirls all around a haunting Hucknall vocal that really does the song justice.

These Are The Days from Avalon Sunset - with Natalie Cole. Nat King Cole's daughter adds her sweet, soaring soul tones to this uplifting, gospelly song. She does a good job. The song is more jazzy than the original. It has some excellent saxophone and trumpet solos.

Get On With The Show from What's Wrong With This Picture? - with Georgie Fame. Van's old mate, sixties jazzer Georgie Fame joins him on this. It suits him perfectly. It is given a slight reggae beat and the two old friends jazz up the vocals. It is catchy and decidedly pleasant.

Rough God Goes Rising from The Healing Game - with Shana Morrison. Van's daughter provides her usual high quality vocal on this track from 1997, that it played quite similarly to its original.

Fire In The Belly from The Healing Game - with Steve Winwood. Sixties/seventies band Traffic's Steve Winwood appears on this, initially instrumentally and as the second voice to Morrison, and then they duet half way through, both singers' rasping vocals trading off again each other effectively.

Born To Sing from Born To Sing: No Plan B - with Chris Farlowe. A slightly mid-tempo rock 'n' roll piano and saxophone introduces this appealing duet with sixties blues rock legend Chris Farlowe. My god, what a voice he has. The track is enhanced by some wonderful New Orleans-style brass.

Irish Heartbeat from Down The Road - with Mark Knopfler. Suitably evocative, folky and beautiful rendition of this Celtic-influenced number. A bit of trademark Knopfler guitar in there too.

Real Real Gone from Enlightenment - with Michael BublĂ©. Crooner BublĂ© does a surprisingly fine job on this upbeat number, the two of them enthusiastically whooping it up, in entertaining fashion. The final name checking bit is excellent.

How Can A Poor Boy from Keep It Simple - with Taj Mahal. Sixties blueser Taj Mahal and Van get down 'n' dirty on this blues grinder. Mahal's voice is suitably gruff and is a great fit for the track.

This is a highly recommended, quality album.


Keep Me Singing (2016)


Let It Rhyme/Every Time I See A River/Keep Me Singing/Out in The Cold Again/Memory Lane/The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword/Holy Guardian Angel/Share Your Love With Me/In Tiburon/Look Beyond The Hill/Going Down To Bangor/Too Late/Caledonia Swing   
                         
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.

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 (pictured) 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'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.




Roll With The Punches (2017)


Roll With The Punches/Transformation/I Can Tell/Stormy Monday/Lonely Avenue/Goin' To Chicago/Fame/Too Much Trouble/Bring It On Home To Me/Ordinary People/How Far From God/Teardrops From My Eyes/Automobile Blues/Benediction/Mean Old World/Ride On Josephine   

Jeff Beck is here. Chris FarloweGeorgie FamePaul Jones. And Van Morrison. Singing the blues. Enjoying it. Forget the Radio Two favourite of Transformation, which is the only "Van Morrison by numbers" track on here and seems to have attracted a lot of people expecting more of the same, the rest of the album is BLUES, pure and simple, and Van Morrison, a long time aficionado, plays them better than most.

This is not a nostalgia trip for Morrison, he plays the music with an enthusiasm and vitality that sounds forward-thinking as opposed to retrospective, if you get my drift. It is spontaneous and almost sounds "live", something Morrison has always been able to get from his musicians.

Roll With The Punches is a great opener, and Transformation has a great Jeff Beck guitar solo on it, although as I said before, the track sits at odds with the copper-bottomed blues on the rest of the album. It sits somewhat incongruously as the album's only commercial-sounding piece of Morrison radio fare. I Can Tell is a harmonica-driven blues and Van’s revisit to Stormy Monday/Lonely Avenue is just top quality. 

Listen to that big, bluesy bass. Lord have mercy. Fame is another impressive bluesed-up revisit of a previously-recorded track. 

Too Much Trouble takes the tone upbeat with a faster blues. Check out the guitar on Ordinary People

Bring It On Home To Me, (which has a searing Jeff Beck guitar solo), Goin' To Chicago, the titles speak for themselves. I could list the whole lot. Great to hear Georgie Fame again, by the way. This is just such a great late night album at times.

No need for any of that old “return to form” guff. This is just a highly credible blues album by a highly credible artist, just like The Rolling Stones’ Blue And Lonesome. Both artists do this stuff effortlessly. The world is a better place for it. If you like the blues you will love this.


Versatile (2017)


Broken Record/A Foggy Day/Let's Get Lost/Bye Bye Blackbird/Skye Boat Song/Take It Easy Baby/Makin' Whoopee/I Get A Kick Out Of You/I Forgot That Love Existed/Unchained Melody/Start All Over Again/Only a Dream/Affirmation/The Party's Over/I Left My Heart in San Francisco/They Can't Take That Away From Me    
   
A couple of months on from releasing an album of storming, high quality blues covers, Van Morrison proved it was too late to stop now and put out this classy album of pre-rock n roll swing/jazz standards in an gently upbeat, drum brushes and stand up bass style with lounge bar keyboards as opposed to the more traditional, orchestrated backing associated with Sinatra and, unfortunately, countless Rod Stewart/Bradley Walsh “mothers’ day” albums. This is a much more enjoyable album of these type of songs. There is a nice late night jazzy feel to the material and Morrison’s voice always has a gruff, instantly recognisable appeal. I’m no true jazz aficionado, but this sounds good to me. In many ways, it is a fine little gem of an album.
    
Some do not care for the saxophone-driven instrumental version of The Skye Boat Song. Personally I love it. Great keyboards, nice saxophone from Morrison, nice percussion. Just very enjoyable. The much-covered Bye Bye Blackbird is impressive too, as is the silky smooth Let's Get Lost and the beautifully bassy Take It Easy Baby

Morrison’s take on I Get A Kick Out Of You is top notch. Nice also to hear his new, jazzy, take on his own I Forgot That Love Existed. He doesn't quite pull off Unchained Melody, however. 

The opener, Broken Record, is jazzily jaunty, as is the forties/early fifties-influenced, atmospheric swing of A Foggy Day. So much of the album has that fifties London jazz sound about it. It is all most evocative. 

The sound quality on this album, by the way, is superb. It is a pleasure to listen to.

Basically, I like all the music on here. You either like it or you don’t. I liked the dirty, authentic blues of Roll With The Punches and I also liked the country of Pay The Devil. I like Van Morrison. It seems many just want him to do Bright Side Of The Road-type material and nothing else. Van Morrison is at a stage in life, indeed he always has, when he just what he feels like doing. Good for him.


You're Driving Me Crazy (2018)


Miss Otis Regrets/Hold It Right There/All Saints Day/The Way Young Lovers Do/The Things I Used To Do/Travellin' Light/Close Enough For Jazz/Goldfish Bowl/Evening Shadows/Magic Time/You're Driving Me Crazy/Everyday I Have The Blues/Have I Told You Lately/Sticks And Stones/Celtic Swing     

This is another jazz album from Van Morrison, following on from 2017's Versatile. It is a collaboration with trumpeter Joey Defrancesco. There are seven jazz cover versions and eight from Morrison's own catalogue.
                            
Miss Otis Regrets has some excellent trumpet on it, but Morrison's voice goes strangely deep in places, so much so that I thought it was someone else singing. It is a good opener though, and Hold It Right There is one of those upbeat, swinging "hard bop" jazz tunes, with lots of stand up bass and tenor saxophone. Morrison seems to nonchalantly cope with all sets of jazz tunes these days and it makes for a relaxing late night listen. Incidentally, his daughter, Shana Morrison, appears on this one. 

All Saints Day from Hymns To The Silence is a jaunty, lively delight and The Way Young Lovers Do from Astral Weeks is given a bassy, organ-enhanced soft swing makeover and becomes even more jazzy than the original was, with a "scat" vocal from Morrison. Both of these songs have suited their new jazzy approach down to the ground.

The Things I Used To Do has some addictive bass and an organ that swirls around all over it like  fairground Wurlitzer. The standard of musicianship on the album really is top quality, as indeed is the sound. It really is a pleasure to listen to. 

Travelin' Light has that deep, bluesy, bassy underpin to its slow, smoky late night rhythm. It has some seriously impressive saxophone and burbling Hammond organ on it. 

Close Enough For Jazz makes its third appearance on a Van Morrison album, and it is no surprise to find that this one is its most authentic jazz version. 

Goldfish Bowl is given a saxophone-drenched, extended new coat of paint and Morrison's bluesy griping about the pitfalls of fame are equally as convincing. 

Evening Shadows from Down The Road has an intoxicating saxophone riff and some lively organ doodling.


Magic Time features that strange deep voice improvisation again, that sort of sounds like bath water gurgling down the spout. Other than that, it sounds great! 

Back to the cover versions now with the light, airy, crooner-type song You're Driving Me Crazy, which has Van laughing and chuckling at one point. 

Everyday I Have the Blues is actually more upbeat than you would imagine from the title, and more jazzy than bluesy, funnily enough. 

Have I Told You Lately? is given a toe-tapping, saxophone and bass sheen and Shana joins her Dad again on vocals. It is nothing like the original, and there is some excellent jazz guitar on it too. I really like it.

Sticks And Stones is a fast -paced number, with a almost rock 'n' roll beat number in places, one of the liveliest on the album. 

The pace slows for the closer, Morrison's delicious instrumental Celtic Swing, from Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart. This has been a most enjoyable album, functioning particularly well late in the evening.

The Prophet Speaks (2018)


Gotta Send You Back To Where I Got You From/Dimples/Got To Go Where The Love Is/Laughin' And Clownin'/5am Greenwich Mean Time/Got To Get You Off My Mind/Teardrops/I Love The Life I Live/Worried Blues/Rollin' And Tumblin'/Ain't Gonna Moan No More/Love Is A Five Letter Word/Love Is Hard Work/Spirit Will Provide/The Prophet Speaks    

Van Morrison seems to put albums out every six months at the moment. Just when you think you must give the previous one a third listen you get another one. Many people will no doubt dismiss this as "yet another Van Morrison album" and ask "why doesn't he retire?". Well, why should he. He enjoys doing what he does. Personally, I am really enjoying this one thus far. Yes, I accept a considerable bias, as I buy everything he puts out, but if I thought it was rubbish, I would say so. It is not. The jazzy, blues, r'nb -influenced mix of covers and six originals is a good one, reflecting both his musical roots and his wish to continue writing his own material in that style. His vocals are still superb, coping with everything his similarly impressive musicians throw at him. The sound quality is absolutely outstanding. (The album's cover is a strange one, though).

The album is basically jazz and blues, alternating from track to track and often merging the two. It washes over you for an hour as you can imagine. This is what Van Morrison does these days and he does it well. I am happy to go along with it. Others may not be. That is their choice. I make no apologies for liking the album (now on second listen).
                               
Gonna Send You Back To Where I Got You From sets the tone of the album with some typical organ-powered Morrison jazzy soul. Nothing new here, but if you have been sold on this sort of stuff for years, like me, then you will like it. 

Dimples sees that faithful organ swirling around all over the place again, like a smoky sixties London jazz club. 

Laughin' And Clownin' is trademark Morrison blues while 5am Greenwich Mean Time is jazzy blues of the type he does with his eyes shut. Yes, I know so many people will say they have heard it all before and that is certainly true. You know what you're gonna get. If you want it then that's fine. If you want something that sounds like the music he did forty-fifty years ago then you won't be satisfied.

Got To Go Where The Love Is is a Stax-ish, upbeat, bass soul/blues number. It has some killer jazz guitar and punchy Stax horns. Morrison's vocal is superb too. Check out the full, thumping bass too. No signs of ageing on this one whatsoever. I love it. 

Solomon Burke's Got To Get You Off My Mind is done well, with some stonking organ/bass interplay and a great vocal. 

Teardrops is a return to copper-bottomed blues as is Worried Blues/ Rollin' And Tumblin'. The virtuoso organ on this is wonderful. 

I Love The Life I Live is a back to jazz stylings once more.

Ain't Gonna Moan No More has Van facing up to his past griping and telling us he's not going to do so, over a delicious slow organ-driven melody. There is some exquisite trumpet and a jazzy organ solo. As with all the album, the musicianship is top quality. 

Love Is A Five Letter Word merges jazz and the blues beautifully. Love Is Hard Work  continues in the same vein, with some great jazz percussion and saxophone. 

Spirit Will Provide is a Morrison song in that laid-back soulful but jazzy style he has utilised for twenty years or more now, while The Prophet Speaks features some sumptuous Spanish-sounding guitar over its once more laid-back, jazz melody. Great bass near the end and harmonica too. It ends this enjoyable album with a suitably peerless quality. 

If you like Van Morrison, of course, you will like this. If you are an Astral Weeks/Moondance Van fan, then stick with those. For me, it's just too late to stop now....



Three Chords And The Truth (2019)


March Winds In February/Fame Will Eat The Soul/Dark Night Of The Soul/In Search Of Grace/Nobody In Charge/You Don't Understand/Read Between The Lines/Does Love Conquer All/Early Days/If We Wait For Mountains/Up On Broadway/Three Chords And The Truth/Bags Under My Eyes/Days Gone By   

Every year (sometimes every few months) a new Van Morrison album comes out and I realise that I haven’t properly listened to the previous one yet. So here we go again, The Prophet Speaks has only had a handful of listens and here comes a new one. To the annoyance of many of the “Astral Weeks will never be bettered” aficionados these Morrison albums do not change much, if at all. They follow a pattern begun in the eighties and they simply do not deviate. As I have said in my reviews of the last few Morrison albums (probably the last twenty or so!), if you like this sort of material then you will like the album. If it frustrates you then it will continue to do so. Three listens in for me and I have enjoyed all three, but then I would. Be thankful he hasn't released an album of Christmas standards! Even Eric Clapton and Dylan have done that.
                                                  
March Winds In February explores a theme Morrison often visits - the changing of the seasons. No-one expresses this sort of thing quite like him, or even bothers to. He has always had a strong sense of the bucolic, of nature and the way things simply are, as he might say. The lyrics are delivered over a typical, slowly appealing instrumentation that could have been lifted from any of his albums over the last thirty odd years, from the eighties onwards. Van doesn’t change too much, either musically, lyrically or thematically and personally I don’t want him to. I can understand, however, those for whom it is all a bit samey.

Another of Van’s favourite topics is the “fame game” and its attendant pitfalls. Here he lets out his frustrations on Fame Will Eat The Soul. Van has been ranting on about this for many, many years. He does it so well here, though - supremely soulfully over a sumptuous organ-driven backing. It has echoes of the material on The Healing Game, particularly in Van’s call and response interaction with his male backing vocalist (Righteous Brother Bill Medley) No matter whether it is the same old moan, Van lifts it all up effortlessly. 

Dark Night Of The Soul is a beautiful, laid-back slice of archetypal Morrison soul. I can’t say too much more than it is a lovely track and if you like what Morrison has been putting out in this style for thirty years then you will lap it up. In fact, there are hints of some of his 1974 Veedon Fleece material about it.

In Search Of Grace ploughs the same furrow, sumptuously, with a nice bass line and organ. Van gets sad, reflective and nostalgic with a sad tale from “somewhere between 67 or 8”. I am not sure who Grace is he is referring to, maybe I should. It is time for one of those slightly upbeat jazzy, bluesy numbers and we get it on the easy strains of Nobody In Charge. There is some nice guitar ad saxophone on here too. Lyrically, it is a contemporaneously popular moan about politicians being lazy - we've heard this too many times and for me this is a lazy lyric, if anything.

You Don’t Understand has Morrison moaning about all that “skullduggery” that he has been done to him. It’s all the fault of fame of course. Once again, it is delivered so well, over a late night jazz backing that one forgets about the perennial griping. We don’t understand how bad it’s been for you, Van - “how mad, bad and dangerous some people can be..”. Just keep putting out the albums.

Read Between The Lines is one of the album’s more poppy, commercial numbers in that Precious Time/Once In A Blue Moon sort of way, with its jaunty organ and Van getting all enthusiastic. 

Does Love Conquer All is a gently attractive soulful number while Early Days harks back to the You Win Again album with an upbeat bit of boogie boogie piano-driven nostalgia. It beaks the mould quite a bit and the album is the better for it. 

If We Wait For Mountains is a short but sweet reflection of nature and love. Another fine organ break enhances the track.



Up On Broadway is a lengthy, soulful vocal and gentle organ backed slowie with Van wanting to up on Broadway, wistfully. If he is talking about New York, I can’t see why, it’s just a busy city street. (Actually, I read somewhere that he is talking about San Francisco). 

Three Chords And The Truth is a good one - full of more infectious rhythms than Morrison usually employs. There is some excellent piano on it too. 

Bags Under My Eyes is a slow, acoustic number with a bluesy lyric. Van reflects on his ageing in disarming fashion. 

On every Van Morrison album there is one track that just takes you high up to Morrison nirvana and here it comes with the album’s closer Days Gone By. Great stuff. Take me home Van.

Listen to this last track if you need any justification as to why Morrison keeps doing it. It’s too late for him to stop now. (I'm always using that quote - it's tailor-made). 

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