Monday 18 November 2019

Born singer back to form

John Meagher

John Meagher

Van Morrison

Born to Sing: No Plan B

(Blue Note)

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The Belfast veteran appeared to be on autopilot for the best part of the last decade. One completely unremarkable jazz-lite album followed another as Morrison seemed content to tarnish his legacy.

This album -- his 36th and second for jazz label Blue Note -- was recorded in his native city and represents a significant return to form, although the excitable talk about it matching his masterworks from the late 1960s and early 70s should be ignored.

What isn't in question is the fact that Morrison sounds more energised than he has in a long time and his joie de vivre is enhanced by the copious use of brass instruments.

But this famed curmudgeon isn't about to relinquish his crown of thorns any time soon -- he spits out his jaundiced words on the ills of modern life and our obsession with status and money with Victor Meldrew-like relish.

Although stripped to a lean 10 tracks, a handful of songs here will, in truth, have even devoted fans skipping along.

But there's plenty to appreciate, not least Pagan Heart, which sees Morrison channel a love for blues pioneer Muddy Waters. And Born to Sing is a marvellously arrogant ode to his own legend.

Best of the bunch, though, is the touching, sax-inflected Open the Door (to Your Heart) which offers a reminder -- as if it were needed -- that Van can tug on the heartstrings in a way few can.

There's real feeling in the song and -- like his best work -- it's devoid of cliché.

The album title prompted a local music writer to quip that it was a shame that Ben Drew -- aka Plan B -- was not present.

Yet, once the titters have subsided, some might feel that collaboration with such a young pretender -- and someone outside Morrison's sphere of influence -- might provide a shot in the arm to the Belfast pretender.

Now that he's got the boat back on track, maybe it's time to push it out a little next time he's in the studio?

KEY TRACKS Pagan Heart; Open the Door (to Your Heart)

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