Van Morrison's "Born To Sing: No Plan B" Reviewed
Hyperbole and popular music are intrinsically bonded like politics and mudslinging, so it’s no surprise that the word “genius” gets tossed around in music circles like dead fish at a Shamu performance. Sure, I’ll give you some of the obvious choices – Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, and AC/DC’s Phil Rudd. However, often a combination of commercial success, talent, luck, craft, and inspiration are confused with genius. I mean, it’s wonderful in the “anyone’s dreams can come true” kind of way that a guy with Jay-Z’s mug and one dimensional raps can marry Beyonce and sell out arenas. But, genius? Nah.
Which brings us to Van Morrison. I think he’s a genius. His vision, steeped in a deep understanding of traditional blues and soul music yet seamlessly integrating elements of jazz, has resulted in an artistic purity and quality that has seldom been matched by anyone over the proverbial long haul. Like Bob Dylan, his innovations are built out of his traditionalism, often creating wondrously brilliant music that draws upon his vast knowledge of the past.
It would be easy to overrate the new Morrison album (his 34th or 35th studio release depending on whose math you like), because (a) Van’s a legend, (b) he’s 67 years old (it’s never a crowd pleasing move to put the boots to an old man), and (c) the sequencing is very smart; all the musical goodies are front loaded. If this was an album, you could listen to side one forever. You would never have the need to rotate the vinyl to side two.
Born to Sing was recorded live in the studio with Morrison’s touring band and often has a relaxed, swaying smooth jazz groove. The soulful mid-tempo rocker “Open the Door (To Your Heart)” kicks off the record in fine form and establishes the love over gold album theme. Morrison feels so good on this one, he even incorporates his be-bop scat routine. The title track feels like a fun stroll down Bourbon Street with its echoes of Fat Domino’s “Walking to New Orleans.” “Close Enough for Jazz” gives the instrumentalists a chance to shine and like a jazz pop song from the 1930s, the vocals chime in after the solos have taken center stage. “Goin’ Down to Monte Carlo” and “End of the Rainbow” are beautifully constructed slower numbers.
And after those tunes, stop listening. “Mystique of the East” goes nowhere (I was hoping for a guest rap from the Dalai Lama) and the anti-capitalism/pro-spiritualism theme gets too heavy handed on “If in Money We Trust” and “Educating Archie.” Since the face value for tickets in the cheap seats at a Van Morrison concert are often in the triple digits, whining about capitalism and the global elite primarily reflects how disconnected Van is from his own reality. On “Pagan Heart” Van talks about going down to the crossroads, which sounds almost as ominous as going to Baskin-Robbins.
If you’re a fan of Van, you should definitely get your hands on the first five tracks. Try to download them illegally if at all possible. Money is evil.
Grade – B+