Monday, October 20, 2008
Back On Top - Van Morrison (Autumn Records 2008)
Back On Top
SCQ Rating: 87%
Like James Taylor, Neil Young, Rod Stewart or countless others, Van Morrison was one of many singer-songwriters of the 70s faced with joining the corporate-thirsty clutches of 80s pop radio. Unlike some of his colleagues who ventured that path, Morrison continued his own mystic journey and found religion; a theme that would shadow most of his unpopular 80’s output. It wasn’t until 1995’s Days Like This and his work with The Chieftans that Van the Man found his groove again; a return-to-form that first peaks with 1999’s Back On Top.
Always one to pay tribute to his R&B heroes, Van kicks off with ‘Goin’ Down Geneva’, a standard blues tune that is immediately recognized for his vibrant vocal performance, before settling into the softer, autumnal pace of ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’. Back On Top, as a whole, is sequenced as such – relaxed, acoustic songs nestled into the upbeat material – and in conjunction with Van’s strong backing-band (veteran studio musicians, plus brass and strings) ensures no room for a dull moment. Best of all is the middle couplet: ‘When the Leaves Come Falling Down’ is a classic, a stunning ode to Autumn that manages to evoke Van’s best balladry and something Otis Redding could’ve pulled off, backed by ‘High Summer’, an uptempo harmonica-breezy track that captures all the lust and loss of August’s end.
Despite some newfound enthusiasm, Morrison’s contrary personality is still large and in charge, taking shots at those who attempt to connect his dots in ‘New Biography’ and dismantling his 80s spiritual leanings (that many fans blindly followed). These growing pains would be a drag if not for their catchy, appealing nature. Even in ‘Golden Autumn Day’, the record’s elegant finale, where Morrison recounts an attempted car-jacking that left him face-down on the concrete, his focus is on the splendor of the season, and “taking in the Indian Summer”. As he escapes his ordeal and the song’s dusk approaches, Van bows out, letting the guitar and drums fade so only the accompanying orchestra remains, like a dying sunset on his favourite season.