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Van Morrison
Born to Sing: No Plan B

Exile/Blue Note

Van Morrison gets back to business with his first new studio album in four years and business is still very good. On his 35th album, Born to Sing: No Plan B, the Celtic soul and jazz that’s served him well combines with a musical alchemy that transforms the 10 songs beyond a run through his formative influences. Possibly, it’s a subconscious result of his 2008-09 performances that revisited his classic Astral Weeks. Morrison seeks the mystic as he offers a caustic view of commercialism, capitalism and materialism. The music follows his lead with sharp arrangements that find every note immersed in absolution and redemption.

The opening track, “Open the Door (To Your Heart),” simultaneously deals with reality and a deeper consciousness. As Morrison sings “Money doesn’t make you fulfilled/ Money’s just to pay the bills/It’s need not greed/Open the door to your heart” the instrumentation from his crack backing band envelops you like a velvet blanket. During “End of the Rainbow,” he offers a bittersweet reflection on the recent economic crisis and, later, there’s a call to a higher power rather than the almighty dollar on “If in Money We Trust.”

Throughout the album the musicians play with the authority of having lived with these songs all their lives, while the recording style makes you feel like a successful party crasher sitting in during a studio concert. When the instrumental break during “Retreat and View” occurs, a simple Van command of “Who’s got it?” gives way to Alistair White on trombone who hands over to Chris White’s tenor saxophone and, finally, Morrison on alto sax before the next verse kicks in. On “Goin’ Down to Monte Carlo” Morrison paints the lyrical picture. Then, midway through the music gently takes over as solo after solo is followed by the wish that this never ends.

While the title track walks through New Orleans jazz under the ghost of an early ‘50s Fats Domino-like rhythm, Morrison meditates on his life’s calling. Like the other songs that fill the album it’s apparent that as long as the muse dances so well with him as it does here, he has no reason to consider any other career choice.

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