Van Morrison – The Prophet Speaks

Too much is never enough, as a Brighton clubbing institution (Dynamite Boogaloo) still proclaims, somewhat tongue-in-cheek. However, with Van the Man, he appears to be deadly serious. This is already his 40th studio album.

While some musicians eat music for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Van Morrison seems to snack all day (and night), too, such is his complete devotion to it, ever since he was a teenager, performing a variety of instruments in Irish clubs, with many showbands, before striking out as a blue-eyed soul singer on his own, firstly with the seminal Irish r’n’b band Them. While their hit, the raucous soul-garage of ‘Gloria’, and Morrison’s early solo song ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, have both become irrefutable classics that span endless time and space, he’s recently gone pretty much full circle of late, reverting back to his first love, and his roots; jumping jazz, blues, soul, and r’n’b. It’s a love that was enabled by his father who, having acquired a huge record collection whilst living in Detroit, enabled his only son to devour the blues, gospel folk, jazz and country of the time, the sounds of which must have sounded pristine, fresh, and very exciting, to a young man growing up in Northern Ireland.

This is his second album this year (and his fifth these last three years), following on from You’re Driving Me Crazy, released barely seven months ago, and is an eclectic mix of originals and covers. For a 73-year-old, his devotion and energy remains remarkably intact, while his highly distinctive nasally gruff soul, and improvisatory style, continues to sound unaffected by age, or indeed wear and tear. Right from the start, with the infectious big band jazz sound of ‘Gonna Send You Back To Where I Got You From’, it’s a high-quality demonstration of the spacious dynamism of the assembled band for the occasion, working closely again with Joey DeFrancesco and his cohorts, that include Dan Wilson on guitar, Michael Ode on drums, and Troy Roberts on tenor sax. Indeed, while too much may never be enough, less is also much more.

The effortlessly shuffling-yet-swinging simple harmonica-blues and hammond-filled frills of John Lee Hooker’s ‘Dimples’ sees Morrison shouting his enthusiasm as the solos rip, a live feel permeating the occasion, while the aptly-named ‘I Love the Life I Live’ – a Morrison original – sounds like a hit song from a bygone era, its indelible melody allied to an infectious groove, and party atmosphere.

Elsewhere the band tackle Sam Cooke’s languid blues-soaked ‘Laughin’ and Clownin”, and ups the tempo a tad; Solomon Burke’s soulful pop ‘Gotta Get You Off My Mind’, where they keep the playful nature of the original in place; and the relatively unknown downbeat rolling blues of ‘Teardrops’, both harmonica (courtesy of Van) and piano alternatively taking the lead.

While Morrison’s originals sit well in the mix. Such as on the head-noddin’, bobbin’ bass of ‘5am Greenwich Mean Time’, the players taking turns to shine with controlled delirium. There’s also the melancholic blues of ‘Ain’t Gonna Moan No More’, a homage to the blues masters he grew up with, and ‘Spirit Will Provide’, a slight detour down the road of Celtic-soul that he is synonymous with.

The Prophet Speaks is the sound of a man and a band simply having a gas, Morrison alternatively whooping and mumbling his appreciation for the brilliant playing throughout, the infectious grooves, cantering bass and multitude of small-yet-perfectly formed solos infusing the celebratory feel of the album as a whole. It’s designed to get your feet-a-tappin’, and your fingers-a-clickin’, as well as inviting you to contemplate the beauty of a world that is there for all to see and enjoy, no matter what hardships are laid in its path, even on the title track itself, a mellow acoustic-blues and soul journey with Latin guitar, and Morrison’s harmonica playing complementing the sad tones of muted trumpet. The prophet does indeed speak, and while what he has to say is hardly new or adventurous, what he does have to say is pure musical heaven, and unarguably deep from within his heart.

Jeff Hemmings

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