Thursday, 3 June 2021

Bite-sized Van

These are most of Van Morrison's studio albums, together with short accompaniments from my longer reviews (which can be accessed here) :-

Blowin' Your Mind (1967)

The first solo Van Morrison album is a strange, short affair and one, I suspect, that Morrison has long since disowned. It was released without his consent, so, for many people, his solo career began with Astral Weeks, the following year. Whatever its derivation, it is actually, I find, a surprisingly good listen. The sound quality is superb, almost a revelation, and you can hear the seeds of Astral Weeks being sown here and there across the album. The cover is pretty awful though. A lot of the material is very reminiscent of the work he did with Them, particularly He Ain't Give You None, which has that blues guitar, swirling Dylanesque organ and crystal clear cymbal sound that Them utilised a lot, almost like Dylan's Blonde On Blonde "wild mercury sound". This is great track, actually, "I got messed up in a place called Notting Hill Gate..." Van tells us, as he evokes "backstreet jelly roll" for the first time. For 1967, this is a great slice of bluesy rock. Obviously influenced by Dylan, but impressive all the same. Brown Eyed Girl had kicked off the album before that and it just stands alone as a great single, totally incongruous in the Morrison canon, of course, but none the less wonderful for it.

Astral Weeks (1968)

After some what would prove to be somewhat typical legal wrangling and general bad feeling with Bang Records regarding the rights to most of Van Morrison’s back catalogue thus far, or something like that (too complicated to bother with now), an album was finally recorded. Morrison was now, in 1968, moving clearly away from the fast-paced rhythm and blues that had characterised his output while part of the beat group, Them, and some of his solo recordings from 1967. Rather than going “psychedelic” like so many other groups and artists, Morrison was starting out on a long journey into self-awareness, spirituality and mysticism that would dominate so many of his recordings for many years to come. He was now inspired and motivated by poetry, philosophy, the arts, the countryside and the great works of literature. Musically, his love of jazz, folk and soul would come to the forefront and he would develop a new style of vocal that often involved repetition of single refrains many times - “just a like a, just a like a, just a like a, just a like a, just a like a, like a ballerina...” or however many times he repeated it. It could, in my opinion, get irritating at times, but it was certainly unique and gave his vocals a real recognisability. 

Moondance (1970)

After the phenomenal, unique album that was 1968’s Astral Weeks Van Morrison was back two years later in early 1970 with this seminal album of Celtic soul and jazzy laid-back rock. Later that year, in November, came the introduction to horn-driven Celtic soul that was His Band And The Street Choir, an album that I have always thought came before Moondance, It didn’t, but somehow sounds as if it should have, such is the rawness of that album in comparison to Moondance’s slick professional ambience. Moondance is a marvellous album. Not a duff track on it. Seriously. It is packed full of energy, soul, atmosphere, vitality and excellent musicianship from beginning to end. This 2013 remaster is truly outstanding. As good a reproduction as I have ever heard it - balanced, warm, crystal clear and punchy. This is a very positive, refreshing album. Even the more soulful songs are certainly not mournful. There is a lot of joie de vivre on the album. It never fails to lift the spirits.

His Band and The Street Choir (1970)

After the sweet Celtic soul of the marvellous and entrancing Moondance album, Van Morrison continued the Celtic Soul Swing even more on this follow-up album. It is a good album, but certainly not the equal of the peerless Moondance. It sounds more raw, more obviously horn-dominated, without quite the clarity of sound, versatility of musicianship or diversification into soul and jazz of its predecessor. As regards the title of the album, it certainly is a clunker. Wordy and clumsy. However, when I was first properly getting into Van in the early 1980s, - checking out his back catalogue - it was the album's name which caught my eye - something seemingly credible about the name "street choir" I guess. Sounded sort of Springsteen-ish, I thought at the time.

Tupelo Honey (1971)

After two comparatively vibrant, soulful, brassy albums, Van Morrison caught the zeitgeist post-Woodstock and, like Bob Dylan, relocated to a farm to live a tranquil life far from the madding crowd. This is very much reflected in the material on this album, from 1971, although, ironically, the actual recording of it took place in California after Morrison's wife, Janet Planet, had convinced him to move there. He then had to get a new band set up, and this led to a bit of tension in the recording process. This was according to Morrison, but if there was fraughtness, you would never have known from the album's smooth, bucolic and relaxed vibe. This is an often underrated Van Morrison album. Yes, it is no Astral Weeks or Moondance but it is worthy of more than just the occasional listen.

St. Dominic's Preview (1972)

This, Van Morrison’s sixth studio album (or the fifth if you don’t count Blowin’ Your Mind) is a mixture of the swinging, jaunty, horn-driven and folky Celtic soul of Moondance and Street Choir and of the lengthy, extended, spiritual material that would characterise much of his later work. Two of the tracks are very long and employ the almost ad hoc “stream of consciousness” lyrics that Morrison would use on later albums like Common One. The other tracks are lively and almost poppy at times, so it is an intriguing mix of an album. The album, therefore, as a whole, is a bit of an odd one, as four of the tracks are quite short and two are so rambling and long so it doesn't have either the soulful punchiness of His Band And The Street Choir or the deliberately long, spiritual feeling of Common One. 

Hard Nose The Highway (1973)

1973’s Hard Nose The Highway was very much an album of transition for Van Morrison. It was the one where the Celtic soul started to give way to diversified, spiritually-motivated material that would result in low-key, ethereal, quietly atmospheric albums like 1974’s Veedon Fleece. This album was the stepping point to that one. This proved to be a little-mentioned but important album in the musical and thematic development of Van Morrison as an artist. Many future albums would follow its lead.

Veedon Fleece (1974)

This was Van Morrison's most Irish roots-influenced album thus far in his recording career. By now living in San Francisco, and seemingly feeling wistful about Ireland, he re-discovers his Celtic soul and blends it with the stream of consciousness lyrical style that so dominated his late 60s/early 70s output. Morrison himself has pretty much disowned the material on here, which is a shame as it is an album that has a definite “feel” to it - mid evening and thoughtful. as I mentioned earlier, tracks from here rarely appear on “best of” compilations. I find it always worth dipping into every now and again. The sound is a bit hissy at times, but it doesn’t seem to matter, really. It is probably quite a credible thing if asked to name your favourite Van Morrison album to say Veedon Fleece.

A Period Of Transition (1977)

Van Morrison, after rediscovering his Irishness on 1974’s Veedon Fleece had toured extensively, playing some iconic shows and then got “writer’s block” for a while. In the meantime, punk had exploded all over the music scene in 1976-77 and established artists were prime targets for the scorn of punk’s young guns. Morrison escaped, under the radar, somehow. He continued to release decidedly un-punk recordings throughout the whole period, seemingly oblivious. He had been hanging out with funk/soul group The Crusaders, and there were definite influences on this, his “great comeback” album. Its title, though, gives it away. It definitely was a “period of transition”. The album remains a slightly half-baked, little-mentioned one. Let’s try to get something positive from it, however. To be fair, it is pretty easy to do that.

Wavelength (1978)

After what some critics, (not myself I may add), thought was a frustrating album in 1977’s A Period Of Transition, Van Morrison continued to release material that completely ignored any influence whatsoever from punk and new wave, whose fires were burning all around. This is a lively, melodic and punchy soulful album that harks back in some ways to Street Choir and the Celtic soul experience of the early seventies. This time, it had a slicker, technologically superior production and a smoother style of instrumentation, some of the reliance on horns taken over by sweeping strings, tinkling E. St Band-style piano and multiple female backing vocalists  (as used by Bob Dylan on Street Legal in the same year, and indeed by Bob Marley & The Wailers). Personally, this has always been a somewhat overlooked album by myself. I much prefer the following year’s Into The Music, but there is some good material on here all the same, that I need to give more attention to.

Into The Music (1979)

This was one of Van Morrison’s most accessible and popular albums. Oblivious to the fires of punk burning all around him, Morrison produced an album that is probably closest to his It’s Too Late To Stop Now Celtic Soul Orchestra ideal from 1974, but maybe without quite so much reliance on brass backing. It features lots of catchy, lilting tunes, and plenty of Gaelic musical airs and inflections. It is a sort of rocky Irish blues. Notably, it is also more acoustic and folky than the previous album, Wavelength, which was dominated by its punchy brass sections. Apparently Morrison would walk through fields in the Costwolds, where he was living at the time, acoustic guitar in hand, composing songs as he walked. He looks back on the album positively (something that not all of his albums receive) viewing it as the point "when I got back into it - that's why I called it "Into The Music...". It is clearly a happy, vibrant album, full of lively, upbeat songs.

Common One (1980)

This album was about as far removed from a conventional “rock” album as it was possible to be - utterly uncommercial and outside the pop mainstream. Seemingly oblivious to contemporary music trends, Morrison once again delves into his old favourite - that stream of consciousness, together with spirituality and the quest for peace and enlightenment. Morrison describes this as his favourite of his many works. One could even say he attains a state of grace within it. Musically, instead of the more familiar Morrison rhythm and blues, we get jazz stylings, soulful horns and Pee Wee Ellis’s ubiquitous saxophone.

Beautiful Vision (1992)

After the deeply spiritual quest that was the holy incarnation of 1980’s Common One, a work of genius to some, an intransigent indulgence to others, Van Morrison was off on the road in 1981 and 1982 before returning with this considerably more accessible album in 1982. A series of critically acclaimed gigs had seen Morrison, now 37, attain a position of respected elder statesman/great survivor in the music scene. Pun had been and gone, morphing into “post punk”, new wavers diversified and “New Romantics” preened around like pretty-boy peacocks, their dandy finery actually helping to give reliable old Van considerable appeal to anyone over the age of 23-23. I fell in to that category and he, and other artists cut from a similar cloth - Dylan, Young, Springsteen - provided an antidote to current “pop” trends, something people like me now wanted to eschew. Van was Van. He would carry on doing what he wanted to do, irrespective of contemporary fashion. He felt like livening things up with this album and, to a certain extent, resisting some of that Celtic soul that had proved so popular ten to twelve years earlier. In some respects, then, this album was something of a throwback. There were airs of the Caledonian Soul Orchestra is the use of vibrant horns once again and the (comparatively) shorter length of some of the songs. Four or five minutes is short compared to the two fifteen minute tracks that were part of Common One’s six tracks only. It is certainly not a r’n’b album either. The music is Celtic and jazzy in much of its ambience - Van was returning to his old Irish influences.

Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart (1983)

For many, this 1983 album is virtually a forgotten one. Not for me. I bought it back then, actually before I owned other more well-known Van Morrison albums, so it always had resonance with me. Morrison had become very spiritual at the time, getting involved with scientology. He wants to produce a laid-back, almost transcendental album, hence four of its eleven tracks being low-key, peaceful instrumentals. I have read somewhere the usual cliched criticisms of this album as being "elevator music". Yeah right. Do me a favour. That is unfair. I'd love it if I were in a lift and this came on.

A Sense Of Wonder (1985)

Van Morrison's three early/mid eighties albums, Beautiful Vision, Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart and this, 1985's A Sense Of Wonder follow a similar pattern - some copper-bottomed, piledriving slices of horn-driven Celtic soul, some tranquil, floaty instrumentals and some laid-back, spiritual almost recitations, where Van is in earnest pursuit of the unknowable. The albums are wrapped up in a desire to reconcile the quest of the Celtic soul, his Irishness and his infinite quest for spiritual fulfilment. These are very much his "new age" albums - full of name checks of poets, philosophers, philosophies, doctrines, mystics and his favourite R'n'B/country/jazz artists. There very personal albums and set the tone, in many ways, for the forthcoming albums over the subsequent three decades. Van sets out his message, whether you want to listen or not. It all started here, far more than on his seventies work, which tended to vary from album to album. Morrison himself stated at the time that his music was now increasingly intended "as a means for inducing contemplation and for healing and uplifting the soul...'. It has always baffled me how such sensitivity was often expressed, particularly via his lyrics and music, by a man who, at times was so "difficult" and even boorish, rude and truculently sulky. He truly is one of the great living conundrums.

No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986)

After three albums widely thought to be his "spiritual triad" of work, this, from 1986, bookends those three with Common One at the other end, in 1980. I believe that these two are the most spiritual works in Van Morrison's canon. Yes, the three between are also intensely spiritual, especially the tranquil, meditative Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart, but these two really delve deep into Morrison's spiritual soul. I cannot analyse the whole thing too well, as I am not as up on the spiritual struggle as I may be. What is clear is that as well as searching for answers, Morrison is always looking back, trying to "reclaim the previous".

Poetic Champions Compose (1987)

After a long run now of albums in which Van Morrison underwent a spiritual quest, together with re-discovering his Irishness, he was back, giving us more. It was now becoming a well-trodden path, a bit like Bob Dylan’s “born again” period at the turn of the seventies/eighties. Were people beginning to tire of it just a bit? Maybe, but fans fans were now no longer the mainstream. They were happy to stick with him. After all it was getting on for twenty years now. Now, however, a lot of the express spiritual search was over -  Morrison was now looking inside himself and, to be fair, expressing some romantic feelings too. The Irishness remained, but largely in the ambience of the album’s three instrumentals. Much as Morrisons-post 2000 albums have ploughed the same furrow, this was more of the same. So, if you like it, as I do, you like it. You will get something out of it.

Avalon Sunset (1989)

Just as Bob Dylan's Damascus moment in 1978-79 had shocked the music world and resulted in the release of three devotional Christian-themed albums, so Van Morrison's supposed conversion to evangelical "born again" Christianity similarly shocked people. Granted, he had been "spiritual" on his albums now for many, many years. Had he converted to Buddhism, Scientology, or indulged in transcendental meditation, it would have been no surprise, but to declare himself "born again" was a left field move, even for one as wilfully perverse as Morrison. His brief flirtation with this form of Christianity came after meeting Cliff Richard, but although Cliff was impressed with Morrison's initial zeal, he eventually came to doubt that Van was serious enough about his faith. Either way, Richard duetted with Van on the blatantly religious Whenever God Shines His Light, to great effect, actually. Many people have derided the song, and the collaboration. Not me. I have always loved it. Richard's voice is crystal clear and a perfect foil for Morrison's gruff growl. The song has rhythm, soul and some great hooks. Lay off it - it's good. The album also sold well, and saw Morrison grabbing a little bit of the mainstream. I knew people back then who certainly were not Morrison fans, yet they had Avalon Sunset in their CD collection, alongside their Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Elton John and Bruce Springsteen's Born In The USA. I always found that rather strange - why this but not Poetic Champions' Compose or Hymns To The Silence?

Enlightenment (1990)

Some have said that this album does not match the heights of Avalon Sunset. I disagree, actually preferring this one. Somehow I feel it is a more rounded, fulfilled album, although I am finding it difficult to explain exactly why. As appealing as Coney Island and I'm Tired Joey Boy undoubtedly were, they are much shorter than the material on here. The songs here are just more realised, for me. I feel also, that this is a very soulful album. Because he puts out albums with such regularity throughout his career, it is easy to dismiss some of them as "just another Van Morrison album". Personally, I don't think this applies to any of his albums. Hell, it's Van Morrison. There is always something to be gained from all of them.

Hymns To The Silence (1991)

I read recent a critic saying something along the lines of "what possessed Van Morrison to put a couple of 19th century Christian hymns on a rock'n'roll album?". Well, I have to say this - it is not a rock'n'roll album". It is a Van Morrison album. For better or worse, it is a double album and suffers the fate of all double albums in that most agree that it could have been condensed into one album. Yes, the hymns are on there, but they add to the appeal of an album that is largely taken up with feelings of nostalgia for days gone by, and they fit the bill perfectly, as they provided a musical soundtrack for the young George Ivan Morrison. There are other blatantly nostalgic pieces on the album too and also examples of the world-weary, cynical, moaning Morrison, as he bellyaches about those within the music industry he perceives as having done him wrong. Music is about memories, Van Morrison knows that better than anyone, particularly on this album.

Too Long In Exile (1993)

This is very much a blues album - not nearly as much whimsical, mystical stuff about poets, meditation, peaceful visions or folky Irish rootsy material. It is a Van Morrison steeped in his sixties blue past revisiting it. There are airs of Celtic Soul here and there, however. Overall, though, Van has changed his message a little. It is no longer so much of a full-on spiritual quest either for meditative, blissful self-awareness or the nostalgia of the world of his childhood, although there are patches here and there. There is a little bit of jazz thrown in too, particularly in the final third of the album, something that would feature on quite a few of his subsequent recordings.

Days Like This (1995)

Of all the Van Morrison albums I own, that's all of them, this is one of those that I have always played the least. I know of no real reason for this. It has a superb sound quality and an appealing poppiness to a lot of the tracks. Certainly the two albums either side of this one - the bluesy Too Long in Exile and the soulful The Healing Game have always appealed to me more. That is the only real explanation I can offer. It has a crystal clear, almost perfect sound, but there is something in the faultless sound on this album that renders it just sightly less soulful than other albums, which is strange, because outwardly, the album is one of Morrison's most blatantly "soul" in its ambience.

How Long Has This Been Going On? (1995)

This is a jazz album collaboration between Van Morrison and his longtime friend, smoky-voiced London scene jazz veteran pianist and singer, Georgie Fame. It was recorded in the legendary Ronnie Scott's club in London. It was recorded "live", as such, but with no audience present. It is an immaculately played album, by top quality musicians, crammed full of jazz piano, stand up bass, brass and jazz drums. There are bluesy aspects too. It has the feel of an evening in a smoky London club (Ronnie Scott's) in 1958 and is very enjoyable to listen to, particularly late at night. The sound quality is also absolutely superb. The cover is great as well.

Tell Me Something (1996)

I have to admit outright that I know very little about Mose Allison (save Look Here from The Clash's Sandinista! album, Young Man Blues from The Who and Bonnie Raitt's Everybody's Crying Mercy) and have this album because of the Van Morrison input, so I am basically seeing it from a Morrison point of view. He is joined here by pianist Ben Sidran and sometime sidekick in veteran jazzer Georgie Fame. Mose Allison aficionados seem to be most affronted by this project, but, for me, listening to it from my position of comparative ignorance it sounds a fine, late night, jazzy album to me. As I said, though, I have no knowledge of the originals so take what I say with a reasonably large pinch of salt. (With that in mind, I have just listened to several Allison originals and they have a great sound, instrumentally, and he had a unique laid-back, smooth voice). I liked his tracks, for sure, and appreciate the authenticism of them but it certainly hasn't made me think any worse of this album. Georgie Fame is a highly credible jazz artist, for a start. A brief aside - I was surprised to see that Allison looked like a cross between George Orwell and Oswald Mosley (I had presumed him to be black). So, as from now, I am sampling the originals as well as the covers on this album.

The Healing Game (1997)

Van Morrison is once more on a nostalgia trip here, on way is a mighty uplifting and impressive album. He looks back to the days of harmonious singing in the streets on the vibrant, soulful The Healing Game, to the Belfast of his childhood on the evocative, rhythmically insistent Burning Ground and gets all reflective on the gorgeous, Stand By Me-influenced It Once Was Me and the beautiful, sensitive Sometimes We Cry. The album is packed full of strident horns, saxophones, harmonious facing vocals, organ breaks and sumptuous piano. It is Van Morrison's own brand of soul. While not of the upbeat Celtic Soul of the seventies, it is Morrison soul updated for the nineties and it is slightly slower-paced and stately in its execution.

Back On Top (1999)

A pugnacious Van Morrison declared himself to be Back On Top here, in 1999, and he saw out the old millennium by beginning with a vibrant, pulsating piece of pounding blues rock in the catchy Goin' Down Geneva which sees him on top gruff vocal form. Some searing guitar kicks in near the end. This is a great start. It has a great line "Vince Taylor used to live here, nobody's even heard of him..." referencing a little-known "cult" late fifties rocker. Van sounds really "up" for this album. It is pretty much a blues and r'n'b album, with a few upbeat rock'n'roll-ish cuts and some typical slow-paced reflective and romantic Morrison soulful numbers. There is not the jazz-influenced material that would come in the next few years, nor country-tinged songs. The punchy songs are very much blues-influenced as opposed to say "Celtic Soul", something he had pretty much left behind nine years previously.

You Win Again (2000)

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.

Down The Road (2002)

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!).

What's Wrong With This Picture? (2003)

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. 

Magic Time (2005)

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. 

Pay The Devil (2006)

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.

Keep It Simple (2008)

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. 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. 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)

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.

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. 

Keep Me Singing (2016)

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. 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.

Roll With The Punches (2017)

Jeff Beck is here. Chris Farlowe. Georgie Fame. Paul 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.

Versatile (2017)

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.

You're Driving Me Crazy (2018)

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. 

The Prophet Speaks (2018)

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.

Three Chords And The Truth (2019)

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.

Latest Record Project, Vol 1 (2021)

Van Morrison totally disgraced himself with his ignorant, imbecilic and irresponsible rejection of lockdown restrictions. So he couldn’t play live gigs for a while - there were lives at stake you foolish, selfish old man. Anyway, enough of that, because if you have trawled through my reviews of his work, you will know that I love his music dearly. He crossed the line with recent behaviour, though, in many ways. Having refused to even listen to his moronic anti-lockdown diatribes, am I going to “cancel” him, to use the contemporary, highly irritating phrase? Possibly, but no, not quite for this album, because, perversely - and I stress that most strongly - to a certain extent it finds him getting back to what he does best - moaning about the music industry and the media instead of him bellyaching about not being able to go to the pub and people choosing to protect themselves and wearing a mask - and I have got used to him doing that over many years now. Where the problem comes here is that with this latest offering that is only the start of it as he turns his sour invective on pretty much everything that you would depressingly expect a reactionary septuagenarian to target, and some. Nothing much more for me to say is there? As usual, as when I bought the previous album - it's possibly too late to stop now. Maybe after this interminable collection of vituperative rantings it really is time to stop. The problem is that I love the sound, delivery and backing of his ranting and probably always will. All things considered, it is still a really good album and I enjoy listening to it, despite the lyrical content.

No comments:

Post a Comment