The inclusion of a featured review of a Van Morrison CD on a blues-related site will not surprise anyone that has followed the career of the Irish-born signer. Morrison typically packs more feeling and emotion into his songs than most performers could ever dream of being able to do.
In short, Van Morrison has soul.
On his latest, What's Wrong With This Picture? (Blue Note), Van the Man chose to include a number of blues numbers, mostly original compositions, amidst his usual eclectic mix of jazz, soul and rock. His forays into the blues are mostly successful and rewarding ventures.
The CD kicks off with the title cut, easing the listener in with a a six-minute, laid-back number with an ethereal quality to it and featuring tasteful guitar picking from Foggy Little (now there's a great name!).
Morrison then turns it up with a jump blues original, "Whinin' Boy Moan," with the first of the frequent hot B-3 accompaniment from Richard Dunn and a foot-tappin' sax solo from Martin Winning and trumpet from Matt Holland. With this cut Morrison sends the listener a strong signal that he's ready to give them the blues.
The mood changes on "Evening in June," a jazzy, brassy Caribbean sound highlighting the contributions of Holland's flugelhorn and Winnings' clarinet.
"Too Many Myths" jumps back into a blues vein, but this tune presents more of a 'back porch' mood. Little checks in with nice snaky guitar, while Gavin Povey does a good job on the blues piano.
One of the stronger numbers on What's Wrong With This Picture?, and one which you will want to hear over and over, is the bluesy "Meaning of Loneliness." Morrison doesn't get overly deep with his vocals, yet still delivers an accurate feeling of despair.
Morrison shows that he's perfectly capable of handling a late night blues on the original "Goldfish Bowl," the tale of a musical artist struggling with being in the public spotlight. Could this song perhaps be in part autobiographical, as Morrison has battled stage fright throughout his career? Regardless, it's a powerful number, with Dunn's B-3 work providing a framework for Morrison's vocals.
On one of the two covers on the album, Morrison adds new life to the traditional blues/jazz number "St. James Infirmary," making it even eerier and mysterious than other versions, with Dunn's mournful keyboards adding to the mood. The New Orleans mood comes from the dirge-like horn accompaniment.
"Fame" is another top-notch straight blues number, a mid-tempo original with more hot guitar work from Little. It's kind of a follow-up to "Goldfish Bowl," with Morrison chastising those corrupted in the search for fame and notoriety.
Morrison has always incorporated elements of classic soul into his repertoire; this time around the disc's closing number, "Get On With The Show," features a big, brassy horn intro that would not have been out of place on a Stax recording. It's also reminiscent of material done by groups like the Drifters, reminding one of past walks along the boardwalk.
The only cut that doesn't work is a cover of Lightnin' Hopkins' "Stop Drinking," done in more of a rockabilly format. The band certainly gives it their all, but Morrison sounds like he just a little too far out of his territory.
What's Wrong With This Picture? is a worthy addition to Morrison's vast recording legacy. It's one that you should enjoy hearing many times.
--- Bill Mitchell
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