Van Morrison: Accentuate the Positive (digital outlets)

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Lonesome Train
Van Morrison: Accentuate the Positive (digital outlets)

As we hinted at in the Editor's Picks of best albums of 2023, it was a strange year which saw attention-getting releases by the Beatles (the new single and the Red and Blue collections) and Rolling Stones, not to mention reissues of albums by Golden Harvest, the Proud compilation and many more from past decades.

And we didn't even mention Cliff Richard's album Cliff With Strings; My Kinda Life, his 47thstudio album in 65 years of making popular music.

Given he just keeps on keeping on that album was no surprise, what was were two albums in 2023 by Van Morrison.

He too just keeps pumping them out but the surprise with Moving on Skiffle and his latest Accentuate the Positive -- released at the tail-end of last year -- is how enjoyable they are and how much pleasure he seemed to be taking in them.

Let's be blunt, whatever remaining cachet Morrison might have had after three decades of uneven albums since his golden period in the 60s and 70s was squandered during Covid when he sang angry gripes about lockdowns and freedoms curtailed.

For many it was the final test of patience for a perma-grump who still held grudges about the music industry in 60s.

That meant many missed his enjoyable Moving on Skiffle where he sounded invigorated and recast skiffle into parallel idioms like folk-gospel, early rock'n'roll and the blues.

For this latest and equally enjoyable – if similarly undemanding – outing, he goes even further back than 50s skiffle post-war songs (Big Joe Turner's Flip Flop and Fly with boogie-woogie piano, Pee Wee King's Bonaparte's Retreat, the title track) and lively rock'n'roll.

He picks up A Shot Rhythm and Blues, the Everly Brothers' When Will I Be Loved and Problem, a broody version of Shakin' All Over, Blueberry Hill taken back to its origins before Fats Domino's version, Otis Blackwell's Shape I'm In, but disappointing lifeless vocals on Little Richard's Lucille and Shake Rattle and Roll.

As with the skiffle album, the tight, swinging – if often respectful – band and the jump-jive, rhythm and blues material here are often the real stars. But Morrison delights in Bill Haley's Two Hound Dogs where the spirit of Louis Jordan is to the fore (as on Jordan's I Want a Roof Over My Head) and taking the mood down for Sea of Heartbreak and Red Sails in the Sunset. Chuck Berry's Bye Bye Johnny gets an energetic treatment.

Morrison long since figured he had nothing more to prove musically, although there were decades when he might have realised the world had moved on. Ironically the skiffle album and this are shameless fun from a man not renown for having, let alone giving, it.

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This album is available digitally and on CD

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John White - Jan 18, 2024

My son Chris White on "Shakin' all Over", on the Trombone somewhat unusually. Tenor sax is his main instrument. He has toured with Van over a number of years.

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