Album: Van Morrison

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The Independent Culture

Van Morrison marks the start of his fifth decade as a recording artist with this unusually satisfied set, consisting of roughly equal parts nostalgic yearning, insular reclusion, grouchy complaint, cautionary warning and cabaret standard. It's all couched in a rolling R&B style that features his own alto sax and harmonica, swapping solos with the late Foggy Lyttle's jazzy guitar. There's rather less of the mystic visionary, the images of windswept hillsides, chiming church bells, bonfires and waning moons in "Celtic New Year" and "Magic Time" being marshalled more with an unashamed sense of nostalgia: he's still caught in some Proustian attempt to retrieve his own past, but on a more intimate scale. He acknowledges his own insularity in "Stranded", how he's marooned "In my own little island/ With my eyes wide open"; and in "Just Like Greta", his plea to be left alone is justified by his "need to make some real connection". Titles such as "Keep Mediocrity at Bay" and "Carry on Regardless" reflect his Sisyphean attitude to the music business, a labour pursued "in spite of all the media rehash, and the whitewash, the brainwash, and all the white trash". But it's still a pleasurable way to occupy his time, judging by the standards - particularly an excellent "I'm Confessin'", on which the languid reggae offbeat makes a fine platform for Van's warm delivery.