Well, the last thing anyone would ever accuse Van Morrison of is predictability, so seeing his name and his new album on this particular website shouldn’t surprise as much as it actually does. The famously taciturn Belfast crooner is known, after all, for his own compositions, and he has built up a vast legacy of work over his 60 years of prodigious activity. But every so often, usually to demonstrate his love for the songs he heard in his youth, good Sir Ivan will cobble together a set of standards, usually performed in his own idiosyncratic style, and leave everyone gasping. One such was Irish Heartbeat, a set of trad Irish folk that he made with the Chieftains in 1988; another, 2006’s Pay The Devil, looked (if less memorably) at the country and western songbook. Furthermore, he has dedicated an album to the music of Mose Allison (who appeared with him for that) and made collaborations with bluesman John Lee Hooker and, more recently, jazz organist Joey Francesco.
Indeed, neither is this the first time he has embraced skiffle, that delightfully do-it-yourself style of the late 1950s, wherein UK musicians played an amalgam of trad jazz, blues, folk, gospel and swing, often on homemade instruments. Arguably, it was the punk of its day, with Lonnie Donegan the king of the movement, and other players, like jazz trombonist, Chris Barber, drawn along and into its wake. Those two, along with Morrison, produced a terrific live set, The Skiffle Sessions–Live in Belfast, recorded in 1998 and released two years later. Could this be part two, one might wonder, this time without those elder statesmen, both since deceased? We’ll get to that.
It is true Morrison has been confounding his fan base of late; lockdown saw him never more prolific, with a flurry of albums, some doubles, indulging in a hitherto seldom seen angry commentary of the day. An ardent anti-vaxxer, anti-lockdown and seemingly anti-science, his lyrics chockful of diatribes against those who would restrict his freedoms, bitter polemics of bile, and many erstwhile followers were bemused and bedeviled. Some began to consider him out of touch and out of line, stuck in a rose-tinted past. I know. I was one, writing him off as someone I used to love. And now, fer chrissakes, this!
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