It's been a few decades since I was transfixed by Van the Man doing Caravan in The Last Waltz. I did relaxing exercises through my first pregnancy with Common One as the soundtrack. I was thrilled to discover The Healing Game a decade after its release. I saw Van perform in the Astral Weeks tour a few years ago. I have puzzled over Keep It Simple, finally determining that it's OK to just basically hate a Van Morrison album.
What is clear: Van Morrison is not accessible to his fans. He doesn't do a lot of interviews (probably a good thing since he is a terrible interview). But he is a great singer and songwriter and a talented musician. And if he is all about the music, then all we really need to do is listen.
Born to Sing is a really wonderful album. Morrison has always surrounded himself with the best musicians. This record often has the feel of a bunch of guys just sitting around playing music on a Sunday afternoon. It doesn't try too hard. The lyrics reveal some angst ("I'm trying to get away from people, that are trying to drive me mad") but the music just flows. Morrison is famous for covering lots of genres. Born to Sing is mostly jazz with a soupcon of blues. It's easy to listen to (not at all the same as Easy Listening). Morrison on sax has never sounded better.
This record is never bombastic. At 67, Van Morrison has settled down a bit. However, the lyrics reveal his concern about the dim economic picture in Ireland and elsewhere, particularly on If in Money We Trust and End of the Rainbow. The final song Educating Archie is a scathing indictment of how the media shapes people's minds. To my mind, the lyrics on this album are collectively some of Van's best ever. He has not let go of the mystical connection (My Pagan Heart) but sometimes finds it hard to reconcile with reality (Mystic of the East). Although he is not physically accessible, this music is a tremendous window into what's on Van's mind at the moment.
I did approach this album with some trepidation after my negative experience with Keep It Simple. Born to Sing is a keeper. It adds a lot to my understanding of Van Morrison as a musician and as a human being. Highly recommended.
on October 16, 2012
I listened to this recording several times while driving through New England recently. It immediately caught my attention for several reasons. First, I did not hear any synthesizers. Second, the CD contains real liner notes, prepared by respected writers. Third, the musicians, including Morrison on saxophone and piano, perform very well as a unit. Indeed, when Morrison sings, he supports the band; not the opposite, which often is the case for vocalists who somehow dominate the instruments with their voices. Finally, and this is a basic comment, the music just sounds real good. It is enjoyable and well presented. In short, this is, in my view, Morrison's best recording since "The Healing Game."
Three tracks stand out for different reasons. While I highlight these tracks, this CD includes a collection of superior recordings.
The best recording on the CD is "Goin' Down to Monte Carlo." It starts with rythmns that sound like pre-reggae Caribbean music. The lyrics portray an intrigue with life in Southern France -- Nice and Monaco. The messages reminded me of recent trips to this part of the world and the peace one can experience in this region at the right time of year. Morrison sounds like he really enjoyed singing this song. When he stops singing, this band leader lets the band take over. Much like a live performance, this studio recording departs from recent musical structures -- the musicians, with the support of their leader, individually display their talents. Relieved of the threat of the synthesizer and the pressure of time limitations, these musicans show their craft with abandon -- they truly jam. Their sound is sweet and cohesive, and it is wildly moving to hear the sound of a trombone in a modern jazz, R&B or pop recording. As a ranking member of the global music community, Morrison, because of his status with the record label, made a wise election to dedicate over eight minutes to this track. The sound is, in totality, masterful.
The first track is "Open the Door." This is a spirited song. It was a good decision to make this the first track. Simply put, it is a happy song about the writer's wish that someone open the door to her heart and soul. When I heard it, I thought about similar pleas made by Morrison in his lyrical masterpiece "Wild Honey," where he romantically proclaimed that his heart "beats just for you." In short, "Open the Door" is a light love song. Unlike most love songs, it will not support a slow dance. Its messages mirror Smokey Robinson's with a more upbeat tempo than those that characterize this Motown artist. It is not a slow jam.
"If in Money We Trust" is a great musical arrangement. It starts with a nice, delicate bass line. The piano follows, and we then hear -- we enjoy -- the trombone sound again. Morrison gives his band many opportunties to show their talents. Like any leader, he steps aside and lets his team members show their talents. This track features masterful brief saxophone, trombone and piano solos. As noted above, the vocals accent the core music; the musicicans do not support the vocalist here.
"If in Money We Trust" will generate some controversy. I suspect many religious groups and some individuals will complain about lyrics that repeatedly ask, "Where's God?" (They would proclaim that God is everywhere.) These folks also may complain that the statement -- "When God is dead" -- is not conceivable and never will occur. Nevertheless, while the lyrics are distracting and may generate some controversy, the music -- the sound -- is tremendous. Like track two -- "Goin' Down to Monte Carlo" -- this track runs over eight minutes. While listening to it, I visualize Morrison actually stepping aside yielding to and genuinely appreciating the members of his band.
"Close Enough for Jazz" basically is an instrumental arrangement. It includes some lyrics that present like an afterthought. This really is an arrangement that features the musicians. Nice sounds.
In closing, it has been years since I heard a vocal recording that genuinely featured the acoustic musicians. As I reflect on this recording and the length of some of the tracks, I am reminded of the artistry of Isaac Hayes. This musical legend often produced long tracks that featured the band and included his vocals only to reinforce the instrumental musicians. I am delighted that this recording resurrected in my mind memories of great musicians like Robinson and Hayes. Morrison ranks as a bona fide member of this class of distinguished musicians.
on October 19, 2012
Van Morrison's last studio album, "Keep It Simple," was released in 2008; a year later, he released "Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl." And then ... three years of silence. Only once before in his career had Morrison let three years pass between albums; the gap was between "Veedon Fleece" in February 1974 and "A Period of Transition" in April 1977. And Morrison NEVER had gone four years between studio albums.
So it was that, earlier in 2012, I was beginning to wonder if his muse had abandoned him at last. Furthermore, "Keep It Simple" had not proved to be one of his great records. One of the problems with it was the tepid songwriting; of the eleven tracks (twelve if you count "Little Village," the live bonus track), the only one that really made an impression on me was "Behind the Ritual."
It gets worse. "Keep It Simple" had been preceded by "Pay the Devil," Morrison's 2006 album on which he covered American country/western songs. That idea was every bit as problematic as it sounds.
Nope, you have to go back to 2005, to "Magic Time," to get to the last really fine Van Morrison record. Until now. Seven years later, Van is, at last, the Man again. "Born to Sing: No Plan B" is an apt title, because Morrison sounds more committed to his performances and songwriting than he has in a very long time.
Morrison opens with a couple of medium-tempo rockers, "Open the Door (To Your Heart)" and "Goin' Down to Monte Carlo," then swings right into the title track, which has a noticeable doo-wop feel that suits the lyrics perfectly. Certainly, Morrison sounds nostalgic here, but it's a nostalgia rooted in true love of music, and so escapes being cloying.
"Close Enough for Jazz" is just that, as Morrison guides his band through a piece that blends R&B, rock, soul and jazz. It's quite pleasant even though it never really cuts loose the way it could have, though it ALMOST gets there during Paul Moran's all-too-brief piano solo.
Morrison never has been the kind of topical songwriter that Bob Dylan or even Neil Young have been at times in their careers. So it comes as something of a surprise that three songs on "Born to Sing" sound so topical. "End of the Rainbow" warns that materialism cannot take the place of true spiritual rewards, while "If In Money We Trust" and "Educating Archie" both evince a keen awareness of how greed and envy can grow even uglier during hard economic times. "Where's God? Where's God?" Morrison sings over and over again during "If In Money We Trust," and repeatedly rails against a capitalistic system controlled by "the global elite" in "Educating Archie."
I give this album four stars and not five for a couple reasons. First, Morrison could've worked a bit harder on the lyrics, so that we didn't get another dose of Grumpy Van complaining here and there about "backbiters," "carpetbaggers" and other "enemies." Second: On classic VM albums such as "Saint Dominic's Preview" and "Hymns to the Silence," Morrison used his longer songs to explore the far ranges of his singing, to move so deeply into the music that he experienced a kind of transcendence that, in turn, was transmitted to the listener. "Born to Sing" offered three such opportunities, as "Goin' Down to Monte Carlo," "If In Money We Trust" and "Pagan Heart" all clock in at eight minutes or so -- but Morrison holds onto himself too tightly, not fully trusting himself to reach for that strange, vibrant space.
Still, this is a honey of a record, and yes, a definite return to form for a singer who turned 67 this August. Like the blues shouters and the jazz players and the R&B masters he's admired so long, Morrison has proved himself a survivor. It's so good to have him back.
on October 2, 2012
Van Morrison has been producing stellar music for over 4 decades now. On this , his 35th studio recording , Van again proves why we eagerly anticipate each new release , and why they are so relevant.
On this disc Van is with the band. Who else would release a disc in 2012 that has stand-up bass , trombone and trumpet solos that all work cohesively together loke a fine oiled machine.
The notes indicate that this was all recording "live in the studio" , and if so , it makes it all that much more amazing.
Van's writing and singing are in top form , and the band rocks (or should I say swings !)
If most any artist had at least one of this level of quality album in their canon , it would be a blessing. Van has had over 25 such records and is truly one of our greatest treasures.
on March 25, 2014
Don't get me wrong, I love Van Morrison and have every release he has ever made. All of them have at least one or two songs which just stop you in your tracks, marveling at the feel of whatever he and his musicians are doing. When Morrison is in a groove magic just seems to burst forth. Well not always. Although Van is indeed "Born To Sing", he does his best work when there is a little structure to the bubble that he is trying to burst. He shines with complete songs which he then stretches to their limits, scats, chants in repetition, re-emphasizes, etc. The issue here is that the tracks are just grooves with head arrangements done on the spot in the studio. The band cooks, no problem there, but the feel is more of an exercise in B flat or whatever key Van calls out rather than a polished tune.
Rock musicians have always envied the so called legitimacy bestowed upon jazz artists. Too many times we have seen a favorite who feels compelled to show his jazz chops, becoming fodder for the jazz-lite radio stations. While I'm not saying that this has happened here, Mr. Morrison would truly benefit from a producer who has the impertinence to set limits on him in the studio.
on March 27, 2013
I like Van a lot, and I love great songs like "Celtic New Year", "Why Must I Always Explain?", "Queen of the Slipstream", and "carrying A Torch". But you won't find songs like that on "Born to Sing". This new work is way too mellow. Too many horns in the arrangements. Melodies are among the most unmemorable Van ever wrote. Just boring melodies over basic blues changes with a light jazz feel. Not terrible, but Van can write this kind of material in his sleep. More work went into the arrangements but it all sounds too close to 'musical wallpaper'. Diehard fans may love this, but it was a real disappointment for me.
Having been a fan of Van Morrison for more than four decades, I have heard a lot of great albums from him, a few mediocre ones, and a couple that were awful. In his golden years, he seems to have found a safe formula to make music that sounds unmistakeably Van Morrison to long time fans. He takes few of the kind of creative chances he once did even though he adds a few jazzy touches to this one with a very competent band. Is Born To Sing: No Plan B the snorer that some claim? Not quite, but neither is it a career milestone. While it is somewhat better than some of his more recent albums, it contains nowhere near the artistry of his best ones.
My favorites here are Goin' Down To Monte Carlo, Born to Sing, a remake of Close Enough For Jazz, the bluesy Pagan Heart which evokes the days of Too Long in Exile, and his very timely obligatory rant Educating Archie.
The CD comes with a booklet containing a few critics reviews, the lyrics, and details of who plays what on which track. Most Van Morrison fans should enjoy this one, but you know there will always be a few naysayers who have their own reasons. Check it out and decide for yourself.
on July 6, 2015
If you're a real Van Morrison fan you know you have to have every record he's ever made -- even the early simplistic ones. Maybe this one won't stand out in the company of masterpieces like ASTRAL WEEKS, MOONDANCE, VEEDON FLEECE, HARD NOSE THE HIGHWAY, A PERIOD OF TRANSITION, and COMMON ONE -- but Van Morrison now simply does not make anything but great records. He's clearly one of the most original, inventive, creative individuals in the history of pop music. Personally, I have to have them all.
on May 17, 2016
I recently purchased Van Morrison’s CD, “Born to Sing: No plan B.” I rarely write reviews, and I’ve never given a 1-star review, so I’m not taking this responsibility lightly. For those with little time or a short attention span, let me sum this up for you as concisely as possible. If a dog turd could puke – you’d have the contents of this album.
For those who want to come along for a further explanation of this statement – read on.
Here’s what you should do. Buy a copy of Van’s two-disk CD, “The Essential Van Morrison.” Listen to it carefully and play it until you know all of the works intimately so you truly understand what exactly is essential about Van Morrison.
Now, put on “Born to Sing: No Plan B.” Then you’ll get an idea of the magnitude of what a pile of drivel the album is. On the “Essential Van Morrison” you’ll hear: wonderful melodies; stellar instrument arrangements, horn charts that would make the Memphis Horns envious; lyrics that are insightful, wistful, joyous and bold – and then there are the vocals. Oh, my - it’s…Van, Van, Van…
From the title, you’d have to conclude that “Born to Sing: No Plan B” represents Van’s Plan A. If this is Plan A, it’s right up there with the Captain of the Titanic ordering more speed in an iceberg field. I’d suggest looking at Plan C, D, or E until you find something that’s worth listening to and is even remotely related to your previous work.
Where he once wrote:
“From the dark end of the street
To the bright side of the road
We'll be lovers once again on the
Bright side of the road”
You now get imperious lyrical twaddle swathed in mediocre music and delivered with all of the enthusiasm of a third grader being hauled into the dentist for a tooth extraction. Now what you’re getting from a guy who’s been lauded nearly his entire career, has traveled the world, and – oh yeah – is worth close to $100,000,000. (I left in all of the zeros so you can gauge the magnitude of the hypocrisy.)
Now he writes:
“If in money you trust
If in money you trust
But it's not enough
Then you call the bluff”
“So much for capitalism, so much for materialism
Every penny now has got to be earned
Everyone has got to be here at the coalface
Taking coals to Newcastle, you're going to get burned”
“You're a slave to the capitalist system and it's controlled by the global elite
Double dealing with the banks, behind your back, just can't fight”
Right on brother man! You tell us how bad it is! You gotta know ‘cause you’re part of the downtrodden being stepped on by “The Man.” How’d you get that $100 million again?
There’s not enough “Y’s” in the word hypocrisy to even begin to measure the level of idiocy summed up by these vapid, soulless lyrics apparently rescued from the transgender bathroom commode before they could be disposed of properly.
Unfortunately for Van, he has a 50 year catalog that demonstrates a record of musical masterpieces which his fans and new listeners can always play. It’s understandable that it’s tough to equal that legacy on every new release. However, there is no excuse for making an album that, if used as a demo CD, wouldn’t get him a job at Elton Ashton’s Chat ‘N Chew in Malad, Idaho because he couldn’t displace the local accordion virtuoso and his one-man review of the Best of Lawrence Welk.
How much do I like Van Morrison? How can I say these awful things about him? Let’s just say I have a vinyl and CD collection of his music that began with me purchasing a record entitled “The Angry Young Them” in 1965.
After living with Van and his music for 50 years, I think I can tell the difference between the real Van Morrison and someone who is apparently attempting to launch a career as a Van Morrison impersonator – and should probably start looking for a different job.
Honestly, I tried giving the album a chance. I actually played it two times, and waited three weeks between listening to it. Partially to make sure that my reaction wasn’t just do to localized weather, bad vibes, geomagnetic anomalies, or me just having a bad day – and partially to let the mental puke that had collected on the inside of my cranium after the first listening session disappear.
After listening to it the second time I threw it away. It’s garbage and that’s where it belongs. Well, actually I threw the CD away and kept the case – I didn’t want it to be total loss.
on February 28, 2013
I thought the cd was ok. I wasn't impressed with his latest work. I was expecting more probably because of what the ads were saying that it was supposed to be awesome and to me it wasn't. For the most part I like his cds but, this one I did not. I would not recommend this one.