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Van Morrison: "Too Long In Exile"

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Welcome back from exile, Van. This newest release brings us back to the quality of music we grew to expect from him in the late 60s and early 70s. Then Morrison's music was strong on lyricism and vocal gymnastics and endearing enough to catch radio air play. In the years since, his songs have generally lacked energy and his lyrics have often addressed hackneyed issues associated with someone more interested in the self-absorbed trap of middle age than an artist trying to maintain a diverse audience. Lyrics and vocals aside, Morrison's music - his greatest strength - seemed stale. Too Long In Exile" makes great strides in overcoming these difficulties.

The stronger songs on this recording are either blues or jazz inspired. The beautiful jazz-flavored "In the Forest" comes closest to Morisson's great early 70s works like "Into the Mystic." In this new cut he combines oboe, organ and his signature vocal elisions.

Morrison's scat singing showcases the jazz underpinnings of much of the music on this album. The jazz/blues tinged "Lonesome Road" is a jewel. Like the classic "Moody's Mood For Love," the Steely Dan inspired instrumental "Close Enough for Jazz," and the gorgeous "Before the World Was Made," Morrison moves the listener towards a style that is seldom heard in pop music any longer - the cabaret singer.

"Bigtime Operator" is a straight 12-bar blues gem about the difficulties a performer often has with those sleazy operators in the music business. "Lonely Avenue" is musically stronger. About the trials of lost love, the tune is embellished with a dominant sax line coupled with a smoky organ interlude, which when set next to Morrison's controlled vocals produces a truly lonely effect.

His old chestnut "Gloria," sung with John Lee Hooker, is interesting but hardly compelling. Instead of a great collaboration where the artists coalesce into a unique sound, like Hooker and Morrison do on "Wasted Years," this tune is merely an exhibition of disparate styles that simply do not fit into a stylistic whole. "Good Morning Little School Girl" is a creditable rendition, but this blues standard, although reminiscent of the Neville Brothers, lacks their polyrhythums and their soul.

In many songs Morrison combines the vocal inflections of Mel Torme and the jazz leanings of Donald Fagen with an improvisational pop sensitivity that makes for great listening. All these attributes are heard in the inspired finale "I'll Take Care of You/lnstrumental/What You Want." Highly recommended.

--William Shea


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