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Some artists are lucky enough to make it to their tenth album and still have an audience. If they’re really, really lucky they’ll make it to their 15th album, with or without a fan base. So how does one make it to their 34th album without losing their groove?
A good place to start would be to take a couple of leaves from Van Morrison’s book.
That answer is probably easier said than done, and maybe that’s a good thing. Van Morrison’s Born to Sing: No Plan B makes you feel that it’s okay to leave it up to the master this time, to sit back and enjoy another wonderful piece of art. There is a sense of comfort throughout the album created by the choice of instrumental backing, often the airy alto saxophone played by Morrison himself, and the light percussion that ebbs and flows behind the tendencies of the lyrics.
A surprising twist evident in Born to Sing is the difference in Morrison’s voice itself. As expected, his styles have been all over the map as a result of experimentation: from rock to blues to Celtic. Upon further inspection, keeping this experimentation in mind, his voice has even adapted to these different styles. Rather than losing his touch, as many fans are quick to assume when something so integral changes, Van Morrison has continued his lifelong investigation of style. The album is built on a soft bed of smooth jazz, which encourages a different kind of voice and intonation this time around that most listeners have not heard before. His voice reflects his prolific career: it’s gravely and deep, but familiar. It reminds one of an old, trusty pair of gloves or shoes that you’ve worn in and still fit just right.
Maybe it’s because of this versatility that this album doesn’t rely on any tricks or effects to make the music “relevant” in today’s music scene. The sound is simple, unadulterated jazz and blues. There is no autotune or theatricality, which admittedly is not a bad thing in some cases. However, this musical “nakedness”, so to speak, allows the talent of Morrison, as well as the accompanying musicians, to shine through with silky saxophone and trombone solos and pulsating instrumental interludes such as those in numbers like “Goin’ Down to Monte Carlo” and the title track, “Born to Sing”.
The ten tracks on this album are the result of years of experience and “observation” according to Morrison, but not just in terms of musical style. The closing song, “Educating Archie” and a few others are startling at first because of its lack of lyrical romanticism. “Archie” has a smooth instrumental opening, which leads into the first verse: “You’re a slave to the capitalist system/ Which is ruled by the global elite/ What happened to the individual/ What happened to the working class white”. The song reflects the interpretation of today’s society by someone who has seen a lot of personal, national, and even international conflict and misfortune.
But rather than coming across as jaded and letting it poison his music, Van Morrison welcomes back old listeners with a warm embrace and an insight into his perception of the world. For new listeners, bring an open mind, and you will leave with a calm and collected old soul.