Van Morrison – Latest Record Project Volume 1
(Exile / BMG). Album review by Alison Bentley
Thank God For the Blues is one of 28 new songs on Van Morrison’s latest album – his 42nd. With gigging banned, Morrison’s energies have been going into song writing. In time-honoured tradition, he uses the blues as a way of transmuting negative feelings, “singing for people that feel the same way that I do.”
Morrison grew up listening to his father’s blues and jazz records, and these styles have always been woven into his music. Many of these songs are 12-bars, and the band sounds superb. Where Have all the Rebels Gone and The Long Con have a Howlin’ Wolf feel with inspirational harmonica from Morrison. He’s in fine voice throughout, with that yearning Romanticism tempered by an acerbic hard edge. “The key is to have a rhythm section who can read me,” Morrison says, and in Big Lie, he scats across their groove with his sharp sense of timing. Deadbeat Saturday Night, lamenting the current lack of gigs, creates its own Saturday night with its rollicking groove, along with My Time After a While. The Hammond is one of the album’s key sounds, and it swirls powerfully round the vocal in the Chicago blues Double Bind (Richard Dunn on this track.) It’s sweetened by Teena Lyle’s vibes and percussion.
Morrison describes himself as a protest singer (“I’m the only one left.”) He criticises mainstream and social media with witty rhymes in the rootsy He’s Not the Kingpin, They Own the Media; Why Are You on Facebook? The grooves are irresistible: Blue Funk is reminiscent of the 70s His Band and the Street Choir era. In the slinky Diabolic Pressure Morrison repeats vocal phrases against the horns, till they take on a life of their own, fascinating rhythms that lodge in the mind. He’s long protested about the music biz, and Double Agent looks at the “two different worlds” of performer and industry. There’s some fine blues guitar from Jim Mullen. It Hurts Me Too is a Ray Charles-esque shuffle, a hymn to Pyrrhic victories: “when things go wrong, gotta fight even if it hurts me too.”
Two songs, Mistaken Identity and Love Should Come With a Warning, with its 60s soul vibe, have lyrics by Don Black. (“…one minute that you’re falling, and the next minute you’re falling apart.”) It’s a reminder not to assume that Morrison’s songs are autobiographical. “That’s the mythology,” he says, “that everything you do is about you.” Several songs focus on love’s vicissitudes. Tried to Do the Right Thing is a very beautiful 6/8 ballad (Mullen again.) Excellent call-and-response backing vocals enhance Morrison’s vocal improv here, and indeed the whole album.
Morrison’s talked about spirituality in music and Breaking the Spell “…of the bright shiny objects…” has a hopeful feel. His disclaimer is that it’s Only a Song, but Morrison’s albums reward lots of listening with a sense of something greater, just like the blues.
Categories: Album review