Of late I have been finding the same album playing over and over on my speakers. Sometimes by chance as a random selection on my iPod and sometimes, I should say mostly, as a direct choice. Released exactly a year ago, it is a quintessential release from a famed rocker whose history is illustrious and includes some of the greatest songs ever written. It’s also a testament to an artist who realizes who he is and what he’s supposed to be doing. One who finds complete peace and ultimate solace in that fact and then is able to transmit that feeling and emotion to song and thus the listener. I speak of Van Morrison.
His October 2012 release “Born To Sing; No Plan B” is an enduring document that just keeps sounding better and better and that makes it a soon to be recognized classic. Released with a fair amount of attention last Fall, the album reached a top ten position on the Billboard charts while also pleasing many critics. It is the 34th studio album from the Belfast Cowboy and as you might expect with a catalogue of such depth, there have been brilliant masterpieces like “Astral Weeks,” and not so good fair like 2000’s “You Win Again.” There have been brilliant flashes and great singles here and there; however, few have been song for song great like this one.
A talent the size of Morrison’s of course attracts the world’s finest musicians but they have not always provided the support his voice needs nor have his lyrics necessarily been up to the band’s heft. Both those challenges are overcome on “Plan B.”
The voice that launched a thousand lovemaking sessions needs only to be prodded and not overwhelmed. And this album is a fine example of how a band of professionals knows when to excel and roam and when to remain calm and let genius sing. It also helps if the lyrics are smart and even better when they evoke without sermonizing.
On “Plan B,” Morrison explores mature themes as his jazz ensemble counters with similar strokes of virtuosity. “Close Enough For Jazz” is a fine example of singer/band interplay. A fine jazz intro becomes a support nest for a free form scat by Morrison as his voice becomes another instrument in a collage of rhythms.
Morrison takes swipes at the state of economic despair that was crippling the world at the time not the least of which was a near disastrous collapse of the economy in his home country Ireland. In “End Of The Rainbow, “ Morrison’s takes a tack opposite of Judy Garland’s from the “The Wizard Of Oz” when he laments there’s “no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” However, such sentiment in Morrison’s hands comes off as the hard reality it is, yet his acceptance and willingness at the end to “know the score,” has us strapping our boots on and digging in for the battle.
Morrison’s keyboards appear as effortless as his voice which remains one of the most pleasant sounds ever recorded. On an album that finds comfort in jazzy interludes mixed with funked up blues ala “Pagan Heart,” Morrison threads a terse collection of gems. The winner of six Grammys and entrance into both the Rock and Roll and Songwriters Hall of Fames, Morrison has little to prove and that is the perhaps the essence that makes this record so powerful. He has retreated back to a formula that has served him well but augmented it with experience, opinion and a first class ensemble. With nearly three dozen records by a single artist you can’t be faulted for thinking there’ll be nothing new or you’ve heard it all before; however, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you have neglected to grab this nugget of an album.