Roll With The Punches
Sir George Ivan “Van” Morrison continues as a prolific artist – this brand new album the first of two for 2017. But for a few years there (or if you’re unkind, for 20 or 30 years) he was repeating himself to diminishing returns.
Well, after a series of run of the mill blues-jazz rushes and covers projects he finally showed he still had something to say with 2016’s Keep Me Singing. And now, Roll With The Punches extends that welcome-back for one of the world’s greatest musical acts – just what is Van Morrison after all? He’s never quite a jazzer or blues singer but contains crucial elements of both, he’s most certainly an idiosyncratic singer/songwriter but so often he lives inside the songs of others. He’s a great curiosity, curmudgeon and source of either frustration or elation.
Roll With The Punches finds him in very good form. Sure, sure, it’s all been done before, by Van himself most often, but there’s a vitality. The medley of Stormy Monday and Lonely Avenue finds two songs that Morrison has covered already but the duet with Georgie Fame has both vocalists relocating the gold.
There are plenty of star-turns on the album – Fame’s vocals and Hammond, a searing Jeff Beck guitar solo, the harmonica and vocals of Paul Jones, a blast from the past with Chris Farlowe dropping by and the sure-hands of session pros like Jason Rebello (piano) and James Powell (drums).
I’m reminded of albums like Too Long In Exile – the good bits (that was part phoned-in, part profound), Roll With The Punches does begin with yet another whinge from Van about how he’s been treated – it’s getting harder to take as the wealth an accolades grow. But for the most part this album is top notch, five originals or co-writes and ten covers – so it’s a song or two too long perhaps, but when you’re hearing from sources like T-Bone Walker and Doc Pomus, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Sam Cooke, Mose Allison and Bo Diddley it’s hard to complain. Heck, even an old chestnut like Bring It On Home To Me sounds good, sounds worth, feels like it deserved – maybe even needed – to be covered again.
What gets this over the line, I think, is the spirit and feel – it sounds like a live recording rather than a boring old pieced-together set of studio takes. It has an energy about that’s so often been missing in Van’s albums since the late 1980s, and in some cases even earlier.