Sunday, 22 March 2015

Van Morrison - Duets: Re-Working the Catalogue, album review

Depth-charge, Machine-gun and Other Vocals

The fashion for established stars to eventually present a duets and/or singing the standards album is a mixed bag, but this former choice from Van Morrison is excellent. The reasons are straightforward: it is Van, the supporting guests are perfect compliments and the songs are Morrison’s own [rather than those ‘standards’] and taken largely from his 80s/90s back catalogue so not weighed down by over-familiarity and expectation.

Opener Some Peace of Mind is rather special in that Morrison’s partner here is the late Bobby Womack. This is an upbeat, soulful number and both vocals are matched in and by that musical nirvana here on earth and wherever Womack now sings. Next, If I Ever Needed Someone, is sung with Mavis Staples, and she, like Bobby, has the raspy vocal that suits Morrison’s own gruff inclinations, the song a gospel-soul perfect fit. George Benson sings and plays in the third, Higher Than the World, and this is another soulful groove with saxophone and organ and other horns adding the funk that Morrison so intuitively brings. Fourth is Wild Honey and his sweet partner here is Joss Stone on a sweet ballad, somewhat saccharine but all the more a soothing buzz for that. I won’t plot through all – but probably find myself mentioning most – yet have to refer to fifth Whatever Happened to PJ Proby as his guest singer PJ Proby provides the still significant answer.

Seventh is The Eternal Kansas City and here Morrison is joined by the relative newcomer but huge man and voice of Gregory Porter, and by now, as exemplified by this jazzy celebration, it is clear how much fun the oft cited as miserable Morrison is having with his dueting friends. Eighth is the beautiful Streets of Arklow and Mick Hucknall provides a suitably sensitive accompaniment to its atmospheric production, Morrison providing the emotively meandering vocal that is his trademark.

Tenth Get on With the Show is a rock’n’roll gem with Georgie Fame providing a tight vocal mirroring, and I had the great pleasure of seeing him play with Morrison many, many years ago. Eleventh Rough God Goes Riding is stunning for the stunning accompaniment of Morrison’s daughter Shana. Twelfth Fire in the Belly continues the parade of talent: Stevie Winwood contributing what one would expect - funk and groove and soulful voice.

It wouldn’t seem possible that it could get better, and perhaps that is true, but the perfection can be sustained with thirteenth Born to Sing as Van is joined by the unmistakable vocal depth-charge of Chris Farlowe. Maybe the biggest surprise is the penultimate Real Real Gone where guest Michael Bublé contributes a sweetly perfect pop vocal. The album closes on another superb seamless partnership with Taj Mahal joining on How Can a Poor Boy, the blues oozing from their shared musical experiences, Morrison indulging that machine-gun vocal scatting of his that is so utterly cool.

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