Van Morrison - Pay the Devil (Lost Highway, 2006)
Van Morrison is no stranger to country music (they don't call him "The Belfast Cowboy" for nothing) so it was not surprising that his latest album is an easy-going disc of old time country and western tunes. Morrison seems perfect for the task, as his always astonishing voice has deepened into a Johnny Cash like "lived-in" baritone of stentorian dimensions. Ah... all of the things that make traditional American music great are here - cheatin' women, lyin' men, drunken breakdowns, all set to a tasteful backdrop of pedal steel guitar and bar-room blues.
Covers of classic tunes are the focus here, although there are some Morrison originals. "You're Cheatin' Heart" seems tailor made for him as a weep-into-your-beer ballad, whereas "My Bucket's Got a Hole In It" perks things up with a gentle upbeat bluesy arrangement. "What Am I Living For" has a soulful, almost gospelish feel to it, and "Til I Gain Control Again" seems like a self-testimonial not to let things pass by. While there's nothing here that will stand with Astral Weeks as his finest work, this is the most infectious, non-pretentious album Morrison has cut in a long time and should please both his longtime fans and supporters of alt-country Americana.
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