Thursday, December 28, 2017

Van Morrison - Versatile (Legacy Recordings, 2017)

As active as ever in his seventy-second year, Van Morrison has issued two albums in quick succession and has played a string of successful live dates in 2017. This is the second of the two LPs and the title is accurate, as he mixes original compositions with interpretations of music by jazz and soul heroes as well as playing renditions from the standard popular song repertoire. He's got a very good medium sized band accompanying him with stout horns riffing and framing his voice, which is in fine form, and a swinging rhythm section which keeps the music on point and moving along well. Morrison covers a wide range of material on this album, beginning with an uptempo original called "Broken Record" with a chant along chorus carried by the singer in a nimble and becoming fashion. Among the other original compositions on this are album is a version of an earlier Morrison song "I Forgot That Love Existed" which takes a philosophical and spiritual bent, while "Start All Over Again" develops an easy going loping groove with rippling piano, and a strong vocal performance making for a memorable statement and "Only A Dream" which uses jazzy guitar and a subtle rhythm to shade a vocal echoing romantic longing, and includes some impressive solos for guitar and saxophone. Some of the choices are quite interesting, with jazz standards taking up much of the remaining set list anchored by the inclusion of two Gershwin songs, including an appropriately moody version of "A Foggy Day" and a strutting version of "They Can't Take That Away from Me" which concludes the album on a defiant note. "Unchained Melody" is a bit of a surprise, beginning with Morrison singing over the sparest of backup, then allowing the remainder of the band to fold is he growls and slurs the words of the song into an unusual direction. Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of You" is an excellent choice, with Morrison stretching and pulling at the words to put his own individual stamp on the proceedings while the band takes a classy instrumental break to add further energy to one of the album's highlights. "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" has been done by Tony Bennett and a host of others, and Morrison provides a stylish version of the song using quiet brushed percussion and jazzy guitar and piano chords to set the mood. Some stylish Hammond B3 organ bubbles up to take a brief nod then supporting a Wes Montgomery influenced guitar solo. Overall this album worked well, it was a solid combination of originals and standard material that shows Morrison and the band in a more jazzy light, which plays to the strengths of the vocalist and the band. Versatile - amazon.com

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