Van Morrison - Down The Road

The great irony of Van Morrison's career is that his groundbreaking albums, such as "Astral Weeks", "Moondance", "Band & Street Choir", "Tupelo Honey" etc. for the Warner Brothers label in the late sixties to mid seventies, at the time of their release only sold to a cult following although they have continued to sell steadily since then, due to his elevation to a household name and high chart positions of albums made in recent years. Albums, that in comparison to those early ones have been described as "Van Morrison by numbers" or "pipe and slippers Van".

This album which sees him take his own Exile label back to Polydor after a few years with Virgin Records is an improvement on the "Back On Top" set which was the last 'proper Van album before the collaborations with Lonnie Donegan and Jerry Lee Lewis's sister Linda Gail Lewis. Having said that, there are a few songs that you feel he could probably write in his sleep and one "All Work and No Play" ,which off the top of my head, could well be the worst song he has recorded.

Several songs are redolent of other songs. "Man Has To Struggle" sounds like his own classic "Warm Love" given a faster tempo. "Talk Is Cheap" uses the classic "Kansas City" rhythm & blues riff as basis. "What Makes The Irish Heart Beat" is the type of song Jerry Lee Lewis would sing when he is in country mood. "Hey Mr DJ", the first single released not only sounds like a Sam Cooke song, but Van employs Sam Cookes vocal technique as well. A wise commercial move might be to release Van's vocal version of an Acker Bilk instrumental, "Shadows" as a single which features the veteran trad jazzman on clarinet.

The album is awash with a rich sounding string section or on occasion a single violin scraped 'gypsy' style. The sleeve of this album depicts a record shop window displaying records by Van's musical heroes including Ray Charles, who recorded the best know version of Hoagy Carmichael's "George On My Mind" which is included on this album. The mind boggles as to why it has taken him so long to do his version. The two best tracks are "Steal My Heart Away" and "The Beauty Of The Days Gone By" which are evidence than when he puts his mind to it, Van Morrison can refute the allegations of 'treading water' and produce tracks that can stand beside his best work.

Derek McCann

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