Online since August 2002

The Celtic bluesman still on top

From the Winter 2003 issue.

What's Wrong With This Picture?
What's Wrong With This Picture?
By Van Morrison

Blue Note Records: 2003

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an Morrison's recent inclusion in the Blue Note jazz label's roster surely won't spark the kind of debate that bringing folk rocker Nora Jones onboard did. Morrison has always had a jazzy feel to his sound – a jazzy feel mixed with fistful of deep blues and a bunch of soul stirred in with a wiff of skiffle and a dash of Celtic mysticism.

"What's Wrong With This Picture" is more of the same old Van Morrison, the Celt bluesman; but he and his band are in top form here, and there are at least three "classic", hit-worthy Morrison tunes (I'm thinking back to the time when radio hit singles – 45s – still existed) on the disc. The song "Evening in June" sounds like it's out of the ebullient "Into the Music" / "Common One" time frame of Morrison's output, with a B3 organ blowing cool washes behind a tight horn section and a Chet Baker-ish trumpet solo followed up by a rich dark chocolate bass clarinet interlude, and Van the Man sounding in fine voice throughout. "Once in a Blue Moon" brings Morrison's classic "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)" from the "St. Dominic's Preview" album to mind. Uptempo and brassy, with clean, sweet horn harmonics worthy of any jazz CD out there. And the title tune where Morrisons's trademark vocal rides in on a sweet wash of strings and bass clarinet – and it's not a sweetening that's overdone, thankfully, as it was on his "Have I Told You Lately that I Love You" from a few years back.

Morrison, characteristically, includes a couple of those "Woe is me, I'm famous and it's a tough row to hoe" songs here – "Too Many Myths" and "Fame." Both are partially redeemed by their hard-edged blues delivery; and more redemption lies in Morrison's "Whinin' Boy Moan", in which the singer – sounding a hell of a lot like bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson – seems to be poking fun at his self-pitying propensities.

And then there's one I've always wanted to hear him bite into: A Celtic bluesman cover of "St. James Infirmary," straight out of New Orleans, via Belfast, where he: "... went down to see my baby there, she was laid out on a long white table, so cold, so cool, so fair."

All in all, one of Morrison's stronger efforts in a long and prolific career filled with them, with a few minor masterpieces thrown in for good measure.

Review by Dan McClenaghan. Dan is a writer living in Oceanside, Calif. Read his biography on his AllAboutJazz.com page.

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