Van Morrison: Keep Me Singing (Caroline/Universal)

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Let It Rhyme
Van Morrison: Keep Me Singing (Caroline/Universal)

Although the past decade has been a little wobbly for the former Celtic soul genius that is Van Morrison, it is Elsewhere's contention that your man really has undergone a late career resurrection.

It started with Keep It Simple of 2008, some four decades on from his self-directed purple patch with the still-engrossing Astral Weeks.

Back in the collective memory of that Sixties Generation, Van Morrison's music and lyrics slipped seamlessly between soul, blues, r'n'b, jazz and often esoteric Irish poetic mysticism.

These are not reference points you'd make for much music by 23-year olds today . . . but the times were different then.

And then – somewhere around the late Seventies – he became derailed. Decreasing flickers of former genius, which is cruel judgement of someone who has always been a fascinating artist. You'd never give up on him, Elsewhere never has.

But for the past many years Morrison has aimed lower than the spiritual sky and achieved more, and almost wiped out the memory of far too many patchy albums in the two decades before Keep It Simple.

This time out (on his umpteenth studio album) the lamp is frequently turned down even more into a warm intimacy, the snarky references to how hard-done-by he has been (really?) have been almost sidelined and you sense in these mid-tempo ballads and gently swaying (swinging too strong a word) songs that Morrison has engaged with a humility, compassion, gratitude and empathy . . . which has sometimes been missing in his recent work, despite the expressions along those lines.

By virtue of the enjoyably concise consistency of this, you feel all those more generous qualities coming through from a man who – at 70 – should have long since dropped the need to prove himself, but repeatedly tried.

That he did so has always been to his credit because even when he failed to do – and was always pulled back by that mean-spiritedness which would come through – he was out there making his statements. Except when he was coasting.

There is sometimes a sense of coasting here: Every Time I See A River which is still delightful for its nightclub jazz romance, the forgettable Going Down to Bangor despite its lyric is a familiar groove for an undiscerning live audience.

But even at its most mediocre (which is rare) this is of the comfortable, educated and fully realised kind, wrapped in warm string arrangements, equally comforting organ and jazz-lite piano.

In Out in the Cold Again, one of the few songs of almost-bitter sentiment, he crafts one of those classic string-embellished soul ballads which exists between the nightclub and Sinatra's “set-em-up-Joe” bar.

The Pen is Mightier Than The Sword finds him in JJ Cale groove-rising soul-funk (yes, it's about his critics but it becomes more universal than personal) and Too Late would have Brown Eyed Girl fans dancing in the aisles, quite rightly . . . but listen to what he is saying and a personal redemption/recognition is right there.

In Elsewhere's experience, very few fans who were there for the purple patch listen to Van The Man these days. More fool them.

This it closes with Caledonia Swing, a gentle living-room floor dance, a post-wine late afternoon instrumental with a slight ska-cum-reggae pulse behind its Irish sax and fiddle foreground.

Van Morrison -- not the classic Van but a man reflective and gently alluding to his long past -- has seldom sounded so comfortable in his own skin.

There is more about Van Morrison at Elsewhere starting here.


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