The Album: The Belfast songmaster’s first new album in four years is a jazzy, bluesy, soulful affair, and as always, unmistakably Van Morrison. Unfortunately, it’s a hit or miss affair as well, and the second half of the album just seems to run out of steam. There are some grand moments before we get there though, and Van recovers in time for the brilliant closer “Educating Archie”. Morrison offers up his cynical view on subjects like money and capitalism, as he searches for peace of mind and takes shelter in the things he knows to be life’s truths. At 66 years old, Van is cranky yet optimistic, weary yet philosophical, and a man who has seen it all but still surprised by what he sees.
“Money doesn’t make you fulfilled / Money’s just to pay the bills / It’s need not greed / Open the door to your heart,” he sings on the album opener, while in “Goin’ Down To Monte Carlo” he looks for an escape: “Playing in the background in the restaurant, some kind of phony pseudo jazz / I don’t care I’m trying to get away from people / that are trying to drive me mad.” The poignant “End Of The Rainbow” is a wistful look back, as Van sings “No pot of gold at the end of the rainbow / No social ladder to climb around here / No panhandlers going to stake any claim here / Goldmine is not what it’s worth, know the score.” However, songs like “Retreat And View” and “If In Money We Trust” fall flat, and on “Mystic Of The East” it’s as though Morrison curled up on his sofa with a rhyming dictionary.
Musically he sticks with a core 6-piece band, and they compliment him well, with nice solos throughout– particularly by Paul Moran (piano) and Chris White (tenor) on “Close Enough For Jazz”. For me, it would be nice if Van would put down that damn alto sax he’s so fond of, but hey, he’s Van The Man and he can do what he wants.
The Bassist: Paul Moore is again excellent, as he was on Morrison’s 2008 release Keep it Simple. His playing is solid and responsive to the moody vocalist, and even gets a chance to stretch out with a 12-bar acoustic solo on “Goin’ Down To Monte Carlo”.
Best Tracks: “Goin Down To Monte Carlo”, “Close Enough For Jazz”, “Educating Archie”