Thursday, May 03, 2018

Van Morrison and Joe DeFrancesco - You're Driving Me Crazy (Legacy Recordings, 2018)

Van Morrison has jazz in his very DNA, and it has infused his music from the beginning. He’s made two successful albums within the genre, the Mose Allison tribute Tell Me Something, and the swinging How Long Has This Been Going On. Organist and occasional trumpeter Joey DeFrancesco was a smart choice as a collaborator, leading a small to medium sized group with Morrison singing standards and reinterpretations of some of his original material. His extraordinary voice and unique mannerisms allow him to tweak and tinker with the material in a loose live in the studio setting. After growling through the opening “Miss Otis Regrets” he moves into a finger snapping and toe tapping version of “Hold It Right There” which gets the band moving, a small and nimble group, with guitar, bass and drums in a subtle rhythm section, with a few horns including Morrison's own saxophone. He revisits some of his own work, with a jumping version of "All Saints Day" from the underrated Hymns to the Silence LP, and a very nice rearrangement of "The Way that Young Lovers Do" originally the blistering overtly jazzy track on the Astral Weeks LP that broke up some of the more meditative pieces on that landmark album. Here, the pace is slowed a bit, allowing the music to breathe and open up to a more spontaneous feeling with Morrison feeling the words, belting them put but never forcing them, and while it may lack the passion of the original recording, it is replaced by a hard won wisdom, that imbues this song and the album as a whole. They dive into the deep blues on "The Things That I Used To Do," Guitar Slim's heartbreaking anthem to remorse and regret. Morrison's voice is well suited to this emotional song, taking the music at a slow or medium tempo, the band opens up and allows Morrison to really make his case, singing the blues in a jazzy manner in the tradition of singers like Jimmy Witherspoon and Big Joe Turner, combining the grit of the blues and the sophistication of jazz and singing the lyrics in a liven in way that is very impressive. "Close Enough For Jazz"  reunites him with a song from another underrated album, Too Long In Exile, a collection that was rooted in blues and jazz, and this track is snappy and lively with Morrison skipping around the band with a light and skillful demeanor that allows the band to swing and the singer to scat, repeat and declare the words. The group takes a medium up-tempo approach to the standard "Every Day I Have the Blues" which allows for some fine riffing from the horns and Morrison making a declamatory statement with the lyrics, before the band moves into an autumnal duet on "Have I Told You Lately" with a female vocalist that keeps the hymnal structure  of the original while allowing the singers to soar. This album worked quite well, Morrison's voice is as strong and ever, deep and resonant and he has the feel to work very well in an improvisational and informal setting. The songs were chosen well, and DeFrancesco's organ works well in the music, giving it the lift and structure that allow it to succeed. You're Driving Me Crazy -

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