Van Morrison: Still On Top - The Greatest Hits
Van Morrison: Still on top after all these years
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Friday, 19, Oct 2007 02:21
Polydor Records, out October 22nd.
In a nutshell
Unique, soulful, poetic, passionate, diverse
What's it all about?
The fact that Van Morrison has 37 'greatest hits' says a lot. This double album spans five decades from 1964's Gloria to 2005's Celtic New Year. He is a generic chameleon, moving effortlessly between rock, soul, R&B, folk, blues and country, sometimes within the same track, but always retaining a distinct sound.
Who's it by
Belfast-born Van Morrison listened to Muddy Waters, Mahalia Jackson, Lightnin Hopkins and John Lee Hooker in his formative years. He spent his teens playing guitar, sax and harmonica with a series of local Irish bands before forming an R&B band called Them in 1964, with whom he enjoyed his earliest hits. Van Morrison went solo in 1968 and has not looked back since, producing a string of critically-acclaimed albums and notching up enough awards to fill several mantelpieces along the way. He still averages two gigs a week at the age of 62.
As an example
"Cast my memory back there, Lord/Sometime I'm overcome thinking about/Making love in the green grass/Behind the stadium/With you, my brown-eyed girl." - Brown Eyed Girl.
"Don't wannna discuss it/Think it's time for a change/You may get disgusted/Start thinkin' that I'm strange/In that case I'll go underground/Get some heavy rest/Never have to worry about what is worst or what is best." - Domino.
Likelihood of a trip to the Grammys
Van Morrison has won no less than six Grammy awards, all in the last 11 years. At this year's ceremony, he received a Hall of Fame honour for Brown Eyed Girl but, given he won three of the accolades in 1999, there is no reason why he shouldn't score again next year.
What the others say
"One of popular music's true innovators, a restless seeker whose incantatory vocals and alchemical fusion of R&B, jazz, blues and Celtic folk produce perhaps the most spiritually transcendent body of work in the rock 'n' roll canon." - All Music Guide.
"No white man sings like Van Van Morrison." - Greil Marcus, Rolling Stone Magazine.
So is it any good?
It is hard to assess so broad and varied an opus without making crass and reductive generalisations. Each song from this innovative artist has something unique to offer and should be considered on its own merits. A multi-instrumentalist, with the guitar, harmonica, keyboard, drums and saxophone among his repertoire, Van Morrison modulates his voice as though tenderly fingering keys in his throat.
Across the decades, the one constant is the distinctive growl of Van Morrison's gravely vocals. His voice seems gnarled as a tree on Gloria but elsewhere he softens the gruffness to a surprising purity, as on And It Stoned Me.
The folksy, jaunty Here Comes The Night, released in 1965, sounds a bit like Bob Dylan. Van Morrison turns the jazz up on Moondance, while Jackie Wilson is a nasal, perky, rock 'n' roll number.
Bright Side of the Road is another rocky affair. Van Morrison's voice is as strong as ever on this 1979 track. By 1989, his voice is noticeably different on ballad Have I Told You Lately; his lovely timbre endures, but the vocals sound richer and more layered than on the earlier tracks.
By Celtic New Year, the trademark growl is a little less melodic but the drop in quality is so minor that it is negligible in the context of such a towering talent. Still on top indeed.