The Prophet Speaks
Every review of a Van Morrison album in the last year mentions the quite-incredible burst of late-period creativity; we’re now at four brand new albums in the last 15 months – all of them at the very least ‘pretty good’, in most cases they’re very good actually.
And of course with Van he set a high peak – and then has trotted out many rather underwhelming releases.
So of course this doesn’t get to the highest moments in his career – how could it, and by the way who else even comes close anyway? The very best of Van Morrison’s work hangs somewhere mercurial – a fusion of dazzling imagery, great band workouts and that phenomenal voice and presence. Summoning genius, transcending mere greatness.
The Prophet Speaks is a pretty dumb/wanky title. The album cover is comically bad. The material collected though? It’s pretty terrific. A mix of covers and originals – seems to be his thing these days, but he has recovered his writing muse at least. Yes, yes, it’s happy, clap-filled funky jazz/blues workout material. And it’s kinda dime a dozen in Van’s post-86 catalogue; stock and trade.
But the version of John Lee Hooker’s Dimples here is pure class. Nearly extraordinary. Van’s phrasing – when he can be bothered – well there’s no one better.
His own songs here are good too. Ain’t Gonna Moan No More sees him mentioning not just Hooker but other key influences and heroes (Satchmo, Jon Hendricks). It’s lovely. Warm. And like most of this album it all feels rather effortless – but there’s some grit, some heart and soul; never does this sound like conveyer-belt soul confectionary.
Smart covers of songs by legends – we’re talking Sam Cooke and Solomon Burke – and terrific playing by a crack band (Joey DeFrancesco, a repeat collaborator, is on board here again) make this one of the few new Van Morrison albums that are worth having in your collection.
I believe that all of the new albums across the last year and a half are worth hearing and this might be the actual best of them. But it won’t be long, we have to assume, before we’ll be hearing even more from this legend. It’s nice to hear him sounding like he cares.