No need to slow down and too late to stop by quite a way, and so here we have Van Morrisson’s second brand new album of 2017, this one arriving right at the end of the year and just a few short months after the also very good Roll With The Punches.
Here it’s small combo swing and jazz in the backing and Van out front, for the most part singing – though there’s an odd, yet lovely instrumental rendition of Skye Boat Song, arranged by Morrison; I guess he still feels like tooting his own horn in the actual/literal sense from time to time eh.
So there’s some originals here too – all pretty low-key, some re-records – for the most part it’s to standards, songs long ago killed by too many versions, others resplendent, unbeatable. Van does his best with them. He is wonderful on A Foggy Day, Let’s Get Lost and perhaps particularly Bye Bye Blackbird, all near the start of the record.
He’s just fine on Makin’ Whoopee and then again particularly on I Get A Kick Out of You and he manages to give Unchained Melody the sort of victory lap that I imagine no one, save for Morrison himself, was expecting.
There’s nothing super special about Versatile – other than to prove that Van Morrison continue to be that; I guess so long as said versatility is him bouncing between versions of not-quite-blues and close-enough-to-jazz, some originals, mostly covers. That’s where he’s been for a while, but he’s not just chewing the scenery here, not merely turning up for the pay. He’s putting out work (again) that you can hear he cares about, you can hear he likes, wants to do, wants to do something with. And he has. Twice in one year. And then again just the year before with the also excellent Keep Me Singing. Which also kept him writing, more so than on these two latest releases. Maybe there’s more from his pen this year. But by any expectation he’s offered more than enough – and it’s just nice to hear him not just churning and gurning. Here he’s winning, possibly even grinning. There’s something low-key and lovely about Versatile. And for that it deserves your time if you’ve ever cared about Van Morrison.