Following the likes of Ray Charles and Bobby Womack, Van Morrison becomes one of the few soul singers to record a country album. Pay the Devil comprises covers of a dozen country standards and three Morrison originals in the same tradition. In some cases, the delivery doesn't quite fit the material: after the simple yearning of Hank Williams' version, Morrison's attempts to wrest something more overtly soulful out of "Half As Much" simply capsize the song. By contrast, he does a jaunty reading of "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It" - a song that wouldn't really profit from any more emotive involvement - and is at his best on a lovely version of Billy Wallace's "Back Street Affair", where he simply lets the timbre of his voice do the work, and doesn't force it. Likewise, he sounds completely at ease on his own "Playhouse" and "This Has Got To Stop", less anxious to stamp his character on the songs. Elsewhere, there's a languid, swingy version of "Don't You Make Me High", a risqué number once covered with rather more sly innuendo by Maria Muldaur, while Geraint Watkins' piano and Fiachra Trench's string arrangement lend "What Am I Living For?" a tone closely akin to Ray Charles's country outings.
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