Album: Down the Road

Van Morrison, Exile/Polydor
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This new album features Van Morrison not so much Farther On Up The Road as retracing steps he's trodden before, to rather better effect. The sleeve design – a windowful of old jazz and R&B LPs – indicates both the mood and the terrain covered, with Van grumbling about how "there's not much to relate to any more, unless you wanna be mediocre", and supporting his contention with a musical tour through the R&B forms on which he was raised. Which is fine for tracks such as "Meet me in the Indian Summer" and "Talk is Cheap", which evoke Georgie Fame-style West Indian R&B and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's violin blues, respectively; but less appealing on "All Work And No Play", a 12-bar plod as clichéd as its lyric. Elsewhere, he contemplates the contradictory national tropes of wanderlust and homesickness in "What makes the Irish Heart Beat" and "Fast Train", takes Acker Bilk for a rumba glide on "Evening Shadows", advocates endurance over hardship in "Choppin' Wood" and "Man has to Struggle", and essays an eccentric cover of "Georgia on my Mind". The key track, though, is "The Beauty Of Days Gone By", a folksy, wistful piece on which his affection for the past is explained as an attempt to stay young through reverie and the contemplation of "my own true self". Whatever that may be.

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