Keep It Simple – Van Morrison
Lost Highway 0010658-02
Like Neil Young, Van Morrison has released so many quality albums throughout his career that it’s almost difficult to judge a new release on anything other than a sliding scale of past recordings. Of course, there’s some basis to that when reviewing anyone who has managed to eek out an actual career i.e. more than several releases in the music industry. But here, it’s almost unfair to expect to get one’s mind blown away. Few, if any artists, does that on a regular basis, particularly when, in the case of Morrison, it comes to studio effort number 35. So, if you’re looking for something on the ethereal, altering sensation of the opening of Astral Weeks, the concise writing and playing won’t please. Want something akin to the swing of “Brown-Eyed Girl” or “Moondance”? Sorry, Morrison has a more than capable unit backing him up, but they don’t seem to have that sense of swing heard on those classics.
Wondering if you’re left with nothing to soothe your soul? Far from it. Featuring an album’s worth of Morrison originals, the material on Keep It Simple is strong, the arrangements crisp and his voice remains spectacular. Over the past several years, his career has been packaged as a series of career-spanning compilations. And while this album is new, it could almost be viewed in that manner as well. The opening four tunes rely on blues and soul with “Don’t Go To Nightclubs Anymore” sounding as if Ray Charles could have made this a standard in his set. Following that initial burst, Morrison moves about the numerous styles that have defined his career. The ballad, “Lover Come Back,” and “End of the Land” bring up his ability to make musical poetry in ways that are fumbled by others. Later, we find him subtly merging folk, Celtic, jazz, country and gospel in various shapes on such tracks as “Song of Home,” “No Thing” and “Behind the Ritual.”
The album may not be a life changing experience, but it’s life re-affirming. As per Morrison’s motto that’s relayed during the title track, “Well you got to keep it, keep it simple and that’s that.”