Van Morrison’s ‘Latest Record Project Volume 1’ Serves As Treasure Chest Or Endurance Test (ALBUM REVIEW)

Whether processed through a double CD or triple LP set, the twenty-eight tracks that comprise Van Morrison’s Latest Record Project Volume 1 will become either a treasure trove or a test of endurance for owners of the title. Devoted fans who found pleasure in recent records like Keep Me Singing should discover this one will hit home as well, whereas more objective music lovers may probably miss the natural spontaneity and unusual good cheer that arose from The Belfast Cowboy’s 2018 collaborations with jazz keyboardist/bandleader Joey DeFrancesco, You’re Driving Me Crazy and (to an only slightly lesser extent) The Prophet Speaks. 

The musicianly camaraderie that permeates both those titles certifies them as distinct entries in Morrison’s lengthy discography. In contrast, this collection arrives on the heels of some sporadic activity over the past few months in which Van The Man has railed against the governmental impositions of restrictions arising from the pandemic. As a result, if a slightly bitter air seems implicit in more than just this album’s title, perhaps that’s to be expected: coming across as his customarily irascible self during “Love Should Come With A Warning”  and “They Own The Media,” the Irishman is simply remaining true to his long-term history   

Notwithstanding whether songs like “Blue Funk” represent an accurate reflection of this iconoclastic artist’s audience, cuts like the comparatively uptempo “Only A Song” and the outright cheery “Breaking the Spell” are both welcome changes of pace after so much music at essentially the same mid-tempo. Likewise, “Psychoanalysts’ Ball” features the gentle lilt of percussion and vibes, its warmth at odds with the bitter edge in the lyrics. One of a small handful of similar arrangements here, it takes some careful listening to discern the negativity below the surface of such easy-going (and somewhat ill-defined) strains of blues, pop, r&b, and soul music: better to let it waft into the air.

The gaiety of harmonica on “The Long Con” certainly belies its title as well, while “Duper’s Delight” brings to mind such extended meditations such as “St. Dominic’s Preview:” Morrison does his most fluent singing here, revealing how relatively strong his voice remains (and how much deeper it is than when younger). To his great credit, Van applies a similarly multi-leveled approach for the better part of this near two hours of music, so he’s clearly not selling his fundamental musical values short here, even if he’s not stretching beyond well-established writing, recording, and performing motifs. However, a more compact collection of tracks would more precisely exhibit dynamics that would render Latest Record Project Volume 1 more accessible.

The reappearance of sharp arrangements, polished production and tasteful musicianship of his latter-day records like 2012’s Born to Sing No Plan B may or may not offset the cynical attitude of the topical tunes on Latest Record Project Volume 1.  Van Morrison takes himself very seriously, and perhaps too much so, on this, his forty-second record: when he professes “Stop Bitching, Do Something,”  he might well be talking to himself, as is also the case when so often repeating the title of “Why Are You On Facebook.” Consequently, the measure of self-effacing good humor on the non-original blues selection “It Hurts Me Too,” sounds as welcome as the wry expression of “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished,” especially as the latter resides within the light step of the band on a jazzy set of chord changes. 

Having announced his first-ever virtual performance on the day after this album hits the streets, Van Morrison may well have come to terms with post-lockdown (ab)normalcy. Accordingly, if writing and recording Latest Record Project Volume 1 was a step toward that adjustment, the future editions in the series (should there be any) will quite likely (hopefully?) be more cogent statements than this one.


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