Van Morrison – Born to Sing: No Plan B – Blue Note 509999 7370 22, 58:59 ****:
(Van Morrison, electric guitar, piano, saxophone, vocals; Dave Keary, guitar; Chris White, clarinet, tenor sax; Alistair White, trombone; Paul Moran, keyboards, trumpet; Paul Moore, bass; Jeff Lardner, drums)
For his return to Blue Note Records after a several year hiatus, Van Morrison is back to his soulful mix of rhythm and blues, jazz supplemented by horns, with a bit of rock, blues, and Celtic swing. Never an artist easy to pin down, Van continues to satisfy with a mix of his curmudgeonly (fully appropriate to me) lyrics about the money-hungry, greedy recording business, and his feeling of wanting to be left alone with the guarding of his privacy (“If In Money We Trust” “End of the Rainbow“ and “Educating Archie“) balanced by a sweet sentimentality for the early days of Rock and Roll, the 1950s, with a healthy dose of spirituality (“Pagan Heart,” “Retreat and View” and “Open the Door to Your Heart.”) Van is like your cool uncle, whose taste you respect, but you know you have to give him “his distance.”
“Open the Door to Your Heart” has the winning combination of a warm, appealing mix of R&B with horns and an upbeat message that could lead to much airplay on the radio. Alistair’s gut bucket trombone adds to the soulfulness. “Goin’ Down to Monte Carlo” features the Van vamp where he repeats the vocal refrain often. It deals with “getting his head together and getting some peace.” Born to Sing has a winning shuffle beat that brings to mind Van’s favorite aforementioned decade.
“End of the Rainbow” is social commentary wrapped in a lovely soul wrapping. “Close Enough for Jazz” shows Van is a natural choice for the Blue Note mythology. Toe-tapping and head-nodding abound on the track with the most instrumental jazz on the CD. And a great guitar lead with sparkling piano runs to boot…
“Mystic of the East” brings Van’s fascination with the metaphysical to the forefront with a blend of country piano and blues in a way that Van can do without you questioning its melody. Van does naturally what other artists struggle to do. It honors Ray Charles, as like Ray, Van Morrison can cover several genres with ease. “Retreat and View” opens with a blissful horn blend before Van looks at life from his mature view of the world. Both trombone and tenor sax solos sweeten the mix. It is like being warmed by a warm wool blanket on a cold winter night.
“If In Money We Trust” is a caustic diatribe about “biting the dust” if money and greed controls our life. “Pagan Heart’ strongly channels Van’s work with John Lee Hooker with its haunting guitar and discussion about moving to the “crossroads.”
It’s been a long four year wait since Van’s last studio album. Welcome back to Blue Note, Mr. Morrison. Hopefully, you’ll stay awhile…
TrackList: Open the Door (To Your Heart), Goin’Down to Monte Carlo, Born to Sing, End of the Rainbow, Close Enough for Jazz, Mystic of the East, Retreat and Review, If In Money We Trust, Pagan Heart, Educating Archie
The counterculture movie from the 60x