Nearly an hour of new music from Van Morrison, what a treat!
The opening song ‘Let It Rhyme’ sets the tone; gorgeous strings, Hammond organ, harmonica break and of course the timeless voice of Van The Man, which shows no decline over the years. The thirteen tracks here are all original songs apart from a cover of ‘Share Your Love With Me’ and the a co-writing credit with Don Black for the striking ‘Every Time I See A River’.
The first four tracks follow the laid-back loose jazz/blues feeling, immaculately arranged and produced. ‘Memory Lane’ is nostalgic; “It’s autumn time, going on November, I view the leaves in all their splendour, is it déjà vu, I just can’t remember..”, this is a recurring theme in the Van canon, but he manages to give it a new twist. ‘Holy Guardian Angel’ recalls some of the spiritual atmosphere of two of my favourite albums ‘Avalon Sunset’ and ‘Enlightenment’, as does much of this new collection.
‘Look Behind The Hill’ is short and sweet, then Van teases us with the twelve-bar blues of ‘Going Down To Bangor’ (“…bring me my bucket and spade..”) and plenty of place-name checks. Whereas the crowd pleasing live track from 1999 told us “…precious time is slipping away…” the penultimate track on this album says it’s ‘Too Late’, maybe so, but it is a great pop song.
‘Caledonian Swing’ is the closing instrumental, a celebratory groove showcasing much of the musical talent on this album.
Following on from the excellent ‘Duets’ from last year, this is a fine and welcome addition to the living legend’s catalogue.
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…..?
The Cambridge Folk Festival reaches its 50th year, sold out as usual and finishing the weekend with a headlining performance from Van Morrison. Like Bob Dylan he has attained the status of ‘living legend’ by continually recording and touring, yet retaining that special air of mystery by avoiding too much interaction with the media and his devoted audience.
He opened his set by leading an instrumental on sax, setting the jazz tone for many of the songs. The basic band was augmented by two brass players on a range of instruments, along with trumpet from the keyboard player. Van has a huge back catalogue of jazz, folk, gospel, blues and pop to draw from and it is clear that the choice of songs depends on the atmosphere and feeling of the night, the band are ready to go in whatever direction Van indicates from his central position in the semicircle of players. Suiting the festival audience, it was mainly up tempo with less of the extended quiet passages and vocal adventures of some of his performances.
‘Little Village’,’Whenever God Shines His Light’ and ‘Someone Like You’ showed that the voice was as good as ever, duetting with the contrasting voice of his daughter Shana Morrison. An emotive version of ‘Queen of The Slipstream’ featured harmonica touches and great Hammond organ but it was the next song, the familiar ‘Baby, Please Don’t Go’ that really set the crowd going for the first time. The words ‘This is a folk festival so we will do a folk song’ introduced ‘Dead or Alive’ and turned out to be the main moment of speaking to the audience but we didn’t mind, we preferred the music…’Days Like This’, a mellow version of ‘Moondance’ with short solos from all the players, ‘Enlightenment’, ‘Precious Time’, ‘Real Real Gone/You Send Me’, a cover of ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ then ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. Back to the blues for ‘Help Me’ then ‘Gloria’ with lots of crowd singing, then before we knew it Van had left the building (tent) as the band let loose and played on….