Keep Me Singing
It’s his first collection of new material in four years – and his best in maybe 30, certainly in over 20 – and that might not be enough for anyone cruel enough to hold 71 year old Sir Van to the daunting standards of his very best earlier works (by my count he has six albums anyone working in music at any stage since 1965 could only wish to get close to, to rub against in the hope they might catch some of the magic from them) but Keep Me Singing is at the very least pretty good.
And sometimes it’s really quite wonderful. The mercurial is there, windswept, interesting on In Tiburon, and even if The Pen Is Mightier Than the Sword is cliché-ridden lyrically it has the R’n’B swagger – great rhythm guitar playing – that Van does well. And here in calmer tones, knowing the full power of his voice has diminished and cleverly finding ways to Keep Him Singing he never sounds like he’s struggling or reaching too far, but this album’s songs don’t sound phoned in, never feel lazy or too obvious.
Morrison’s been taking stock over the last half decade, duets, reworkings, a collection of his lyrics, the last two album titles announcing that singing is what de does (Born To Sing: No Plan B) and what he must do (“Keep Me Singing”) and it finally feels like the focus is back.
The Caledonian Soul magic is on display, the smooth jazz-blues hybrids, everything you’d expect. It’s just so much smoother and better realised than most of the work across the last two decades. And on album centrepiece, Memory Lane, he gets as close as he’s going to at touching on the magic he found back on Veedon Fleece; one of his greatest and most beautiful records.
Never count the man down until he’s out. That’s the message here. And Van isn’t out of ideas, he just had to go away in order to come back. The production and playing here is exquisite and though the album isn’t without a few filler tracks (Share Your Love With Me isn’t bad but just sounds a bit by rote) the very best of the songs here get close to his magic moments from the early/mid-80s. Saying he’s not as good as he was in his golden years is doubly cruel and redundant – not only should he not be expected to reach those heights, when he was at his best no one else could get close him either.
Listen to Holy Guardian Angel here or Out In The Cold Again and hear how idiosyncratic writing and singular vocal talent combined to make magic. That he even still has a pinch of what made those landmark recordings so special is enough for any fan of Van to want to hear this at least once, to add it to the collection, to forgive him for a few years coasting – and worse, boasting without delivering. Here he atones and it’s often gorgeous, beautiful, beguiling. And even when it’s just safe and easy that’s okay too.