Van Morrison - Magic Time 
Music Disc Reviews Audio CD
Written by John Sutton-Smith   
Tuesday, 17 May 2005

Van Morrison

Magic Time
format: 16-bit Stereo CD
label: Geffen Records
release year: 2005
performance: 7
sound 7
reviewed by: John Sutton-Smith

Van Morrison, the gentle garden gnome of Irish soul, sits high in the pantheon of rock and roll greats. He has created a remarkable body of work with truly memorable highlights, from Astral Weeks and Moondance to St. Dominic’s Preview and “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” Like any artist whose career has survived more than a few decades, Van has weathered some thin stretches too, both commercially and artistically. He has fearlessly reached out to experiment in jazz, R&B and skiffle stylings, as well as in his softer ruminations and atmospheric spiritual meditations. While fashions and technologies come and go, Van keeps on keeping on. Geronimo.

Now, after decades of searching and with his sixtieth birthday a few months away, the Belfast cowboy is in a mellow mood, seemingly content to dwell within the familiar strains of the old traditional pop melodies and R&B rhythms he grew up with. Comfortable like a pair of old shoes, Van doles out the numbers now like burgers at a barbeque. He has always shown absolutely no regard for or concession to either the media or the market, stridently condemning both in interviews and song, and he does so again here on his latest effort, Magic Time. For such a spiritual fella, he sure can carry some anger around with him.

This self-produced album features 10 new originals, along with Van’s interpretations of three jazz classics, "'This Love of Mine," "I'm Confessin," and "'Lonely and Blue." His first new album of originals since 2003's Grammy-nominated What's Wrong With This Picture? and the thirty-eighth solo release of his illustrious career, Magic Time also marks the fortieth anniversary of Van Morrison's first hits with the band Them.

These days, Morrison’s songs essentially fall into three categories: the conflicted, pissed-off Van in straightforward rock rants about the evils of the modern world and the struggle of the artist, as in “Keep Mediocrity At Bay,” “They Sold Me Out” and “Just Like Greta”; then there’s the inner Van with the astro-Celtic rhymes of the title track and “Celtic New Year” that hark back to early Morrison; and finally Van the Bluesman, happy to stay home with his R&B and traditional jazz (certainly the music with which he has seemed most comfortable these past few years) and pump out a few more numbers.

Magic Time is well-stocked with signature Morrison mysticism and soul on songs like "The Lion This Time," a lilting lullaby with gentle violins and vocals, a sequel of sorts to the 1972 Morrison classic "Listen to the Lion," while "Lonely and Blue" is a gorgeous R&B torch ballad. His sense of nostalgia shines through immediately on the opening track “Stranded,” establishing a warm glow that hovers over the record. And the gleeful yodel at the end of the final track “Carry On Regardless” suggests that Van might also be having a little fun at last.

The recording is clean and uncluttered as Van, in his producer’s hat, seems to take great pains to create a warm and intimate recording environment. He’s been at it too long for things to go wrong. The musical performances too are spot-on -- horn sections, piano and sax passages invariably bring Van back to Earth and infuse the album with a certain gravitas and blues.

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