Review: Van Morrison Shows Reverence for Musical Traditions on ‘Latest Record Project’

VAN MORRISON/LATEST RECORD PROJECT/(Exile/BMG)
Four and a half our of five stars

Known as both a chameleon and a curmudgeon, at age 75, Van Morrison shows no sign of slowing down. A Woodstock rambler, a bluesy balladeer, a Celtic soul singer, a country crooner, he’s continued to carve his own creative niche over the course of his 55-year career. More recently, he’s played the role of a revivalist of sorts, one seemingly content to pay due reverence to earlier musical traditions, mostly of the classic blues and jazz variety.

Consequently many Van fans have continued to harbor the hope that the so-called Belfast Cowboy will find a new surge of inspiration and come up with a work comparable to earlier albums like Astral Weeks, Tupelo Honey, Moondance, or the other immortal efforts that helped define his indelible persona. For those who hope for a definitive return to form ought to find some sort of consolation with his latest offering, a sprawling set of signature style songs—28 in all—that take their cue from blues, rock, jazz, R&B, and the other traditional templates Morrison’s shared over the course of his career. Rather than simply sharing standards, the new album finds him using those formats as leaping-off points for more melodic intents. 

 The result is a series of singular songs as distinctive as his earlier efforts. Indeed, “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished,” “Tried To Do The Right Thing,” “Duper’s Delight,” and “My Time After Awhile” rank among Van’s best offerings of the past 30 years, with his rich, robust vocals still in fine form. Recorded while in lockdown, the album finds Morrison railing on any number of current cultural contradictions—life in isolation as described via the desultory “Deadbeat Saturday Night,” the overwhelming influence of social media decried in “Why Are You On Facebook?” or his insistence to “put up or shut up” on “Stop Bitching, Do Something.”

Some 42 albums on, Morrison remains as emphatic as ever. This Latest might not be his greatest, but in many ways it clearly comes close.

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