Monday, July 09, 2007

The Best of Van Morrison, Vol. 3 (EMI, 2007)

Van Morrison's musical career has always been difficult to pigeon-hole into a set style or format. Although he has had some hit singles, attempts to anthologize him into a "greatest hits" format often run into a "forest for the trees" problem of missing greater themes in his work. Over the past several years, there has been a certain amount of autumnal, maudlin feeling that has crept into Morrison's songwriting, and that is reflected in this anthology. This results in much of his recent music reflected in this collection falling back on a comfortable mid-tempo, with neither Morrison or the band pushing and reaching for more. There are a number of good songs here, but the problem is that the double disc format swamps the good songs in a sea of the mediocre. This collection gives examples of the different areas of music that are Morrison's art. A number of the songs featured here are duets, with the most successful being the blues duets with Junior Wells, Bobby "Blue" Bland and a wonderful version of "Early in the Morning" with B.B. King. These make up for the morose string burdened "Shenandoah" performed with The Chieftains. Some of the pop material is good also, "Back on Top" and "Raincheck" became staples of adult oriented radio, while the folky "Lost John" looks back to an older time with fondness. So sampled judiciously, there are gems to be enjoyed. But it's difficult to see who will be buying this collection. Die hard Morrison fans undoubtedly own the corresponding albums already, while the neophyte may find the sheer number of unfamiliar songs daunting. So it's a mixed bag, well reflecting the mixed nature of the music of Van Morrison over the past decade.

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