Van Morrison’s new CD is subtitled ‘re-working the catalogue’ and he has certainly dug deep, mining a rich seam of 16 songs from his 34 studio albums. Some of the choices are familiar but there are many tracks here that are less well-known. A lavish menu for the dedicated fan and also an inviting opportunity for the large numbers who seldom delve more deeply than ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ or ‘Have I Told You Lately’.
The guests all acquit themselves well, especially when they add some instrumental extra to Van’s top-notch backing band, step forward Mark Knopfler and Taj Mahal (guitar), also Steve Winwood (Hammond organ heaven!). A highlight is the version of ‘Higher Than The World’ with the jazz vocal and guitar from George Benson adding a different texture. Mick Hucknall confidently takes on the pastoral meanderings of ‘Streets of Arklow’ and Joss Stone sweetly sails and soars through the challenging loose structure of ‘Wild Honey’.
Clare Teal’s beautifully-judged performance breaks our hearts with the longings of ‘Carrying A Torch’, a sumptuous version of one of my favourite Van songs where the voices and backing blend perfectly. Michael Bublé must have been pleased to be given the show stopping stomp of ‘Real Real Gone’ and there is the long-awaited symmetry of ‘Whatever Happened to P J Proby’, a duet with…P J Proby! Mavis Staples belts out ‘If I Ever Needed Someone’ and as a fitting tribute the opening track is ‘Some Piece Of Mind’ with the late Bobby Womack.
Van’s voice is as on form as ever (see my recent live review) and is always a contrast to the guest, sometimes sharing verses, harmonising, leading or following. He has shared vocals several times before, live and on record with John Lee Hooker, Tom Jones, BB King, Ray Charles and the underrated golden tones of fellow Irishman Brian Kennedy (listen to ‘Tupelo Honey’ from ‘A Night in San Francisco’, the 1994 live album), as well as many others.
So will this uplifting album be the basis of the guestlist/setlist for a future live show…..?