Artist: Van Morrison
Album: Keep Me Singing
Label: Caroline Records
Release Date: 09/30/2016
Van Morrison albums now seem to be the distillation of his many styles, from mellow Celtic and jazz-tinged ballads to swinging blues shuffles… That was true for 2012’s Born to Sing: No Plan B and this one, which has less political angst and is, on balance, smoother and gentler with five string-laden tunes of the thirteen. As the album progresses, Morrison moves more into a bluesy, jazzy mode, replete with electric guitars, simmering B3 and his blues harp. Even Morrison’s classic growl, generally absent from the first half of the record, comes to the fore in the album’s one cover “Share Your Love With Me,” “and the straight ahead blues tunes “The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword” and “Going Down to Bangor.” The instrumental “Caledonia Swing” finds Morrison on piano and alto sax and seems to combine his trademark mix of jazz, soul and Celtic swing in less than three minutes.
These songs were written over a three to four year period, one (“Memory Lane”) coming almost in its entirety to Morrison during a drive to his studio one day. Its chorus sums up the first part of the album, which echoes so many of the themes we’ve heard from this master before. “I don’t know where I am or what I’m after. I’m stuck here again back on Memory Lane.” There are love songs that will remind you perhaps of Avalon Sunset. There are songs of loss, songs set in Ireland and in 1950s San Francisco. “Out in the Cold Again” is reflective with an afterhours nightclub musical backdrop, featuring Paul Moran’s elegant piano.
With Morrison, the blues always beckon and we hear the classic line “nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” in “Holy Guardian Angel.” Morrison duels on electric guitar with Dave Keary on the chorus driven blues “The Sword is Mightier Than the Pen” and nods to Howlin’ Wolf in “Going Down to Bangor,” wherein he references several Northern Ireland locales influenced by a song one of his teachers used to sing called “Six Miles From Bangor To Donaghadee.” Long-time cohort, John Platania, even plays guitar on “Holy Guardian Angel” and “Caledonia Swing.”
Perhaps the most memorable tune on the album is “In Tiburon,” which addresses San Francisco during the Beat Generation era with a plethora of names checked: Ginsburg, Kerouac, Chet Baker, Ferlinghetti and the City Lights bookstore, for example. Morrison commented, “Obviously I wasn’t around California in the ‘50s, but that whole Beat scene was important to me, and Kerouac was a big influence.” Another track that caught my attention was the jazzy “Look Beyond the Hill.” Listen closely and you’ll hear his classic “Moondance” melody woven in.
This is Morrison’s 36th studio album and he still sounds inspired and remains one of the emotionally rich singers ever. “Singing is what I do,” he says. Unlike some of his generation, he does not rest on his laurels. “Some people need to keep evolving. I’m one of them,” says Morrison.
There will be six U.S dates with these of particular note: October 9th– Forest Hills Stadium, New York, October 13th– Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, and October 17th– Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. For all tour dates, visit www.vanmorrsion.com.
– Jim Hynes