tue 17/09/2019

CD: Van Morrison - Keep Me Singing | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Van Morrison - Keep Me Singing

CD: Van Morrison - Keep Me Singing

First new work for four years is beautiful but nostalgic

Van Morrison: more like a canary

“In time, you’ll be mine,” sings Van Morrison in the opening song to his first new collection in four years. That line sets the tone for a warm bath of an album, a genial, reflective, though always finely honed stroll through the themes and styles of the last four decades. All but one of these are new songs, and the four years they have taken to write have been well spent, though we are, both musically and lyrically, looking backwards.   

Stylistically, it’s a kind of tribute to the genres he’s mined over the years. There’s bluesy harmonica and piano on “Going Down to Bangor”, while a Hammond squeals tastefully on “Calendonia Swing”. Elsewhere there’s boogie-woogie, and even splashes of reggae, while “Look Beyond the Hill” has a touch of funk. It’s subtle, well assimilated into his unique sound, and impeccably cosmopolitan, though these are all well-trodden paths.

Sometimes he addresses directly the nostalgia that seeps from every track: “In Tiburton” reminisces about where “Chet Baker used to play”. The album never really escapes the mellow lyricism it creates from the outset, which isn’t generally a problem, unless more strident moods are summoned. On “Holy Guardian Angel” he quotes the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”, but the song is otherwise so mellow, it’s so difficult to imagine his predicament extending beyond an empty whisky bottle by his armchair, before the crackling fire which so obviously inspired the song.

These songs are beautifully crafted, oozing bronzey timbres and soothing vocals. There are songs of love, yearning and loss, but the emotional thermometer never really rises above warm: the Ulster bluesman sounds as though he’d feel all right again after a cup of herbal tea. The title track rhymes “Keep me singing” with “while I’m willing”, but he doesn’t sound as if he needed much encouragement. He’s clearly enjoying himself, and most fans will too, though no one will fall off their chair at the originality of any of this - it’s the kind of album to nestle to. Autumn fruit is often the most delicious.

@matthewwrighter

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