Van Morrison: Down the Road

John Kreicbergs

Van Morrison

Down the Road

Label: Universal
US Release Date: 2002-05-14
UK Release Date: 2002-05-13

Beginning with the opening groans of Van Morrison's desperately optimistic harmonica, a minor crisis is at play here. "And I got to be so far away / Oh don't you see", declares Morrison on the disc's title track, "All our memories, dreams and reflections / That keep haunting me". Released only seven months after Dylan's piercing diatribe on aging and mortality (Love and Theft), the fifty-seven year-old Irish rocker and soul survivor seems to be working from the same palette with his latest offering Down the Road.

While Morrison can't compete song for song with Dylan's morbid and brooding demeanor, it's quickly apparent that isn't what he's trying to do. Instead, he sets his feet and belts out his take on the truth, refusing to pull his punches regarding everything from tabloid newsmongers ("Talk is Cheap") to the mediocrity of popular music ("Whatever Happened to PJ Proby"). The difference now is that his swagger is justified by the wisdom of experience. Then again, Morrison never did need much justification for anything.

Pulling from a mix of the blues, contemporary Irish folk, and a nostalgic pining for old-fashioned 1950s rock and roll, Morrison is as thoroughly convincing and sharp as his 1967 Bang Masters days. He does admit with "All Work and No Play" that perhaps he isn't as nimble as he once was. "When it comes to the crunch / It's too much I've got to stop," Morrison reveals. "No pain no gain, It's all going down the drain", he finally concedes before the horn section drops in a riff from Duke Ellington's classic "Things Ain't What They Used to Be".

While the self-deprecating sense of honesty is authentic, Morrison still remains a commanding presence. From the hard-driving shuffle of "Meet Me in the Indian Summer" to the sublime lilt of "The Beauty of the Days Gone By", he moves from a shout to a whisper with his typical vigor. Even more telling is that Morrison's most revealing and poignant moments are offered free of any sort of studio gimmickry, with his vocals pushed to the front of the mix and kept dry as a bone on the ballads "The Beauty of the Days Gone By" and "Steal My Heart Away". So much is made about exploiting the cracks in the aging armor of rock's elder statesmen that the actual message goes overlooked. Morrison offers no such opportunity, rendering Down the Road nearly bulletproof and even allowing Morrison the opportunity to tackle the Hoagy Carmichael classic and Ray Charles staple "Georgia on My Mind" without even a hint of self-consciousness.

Bolstered by yet another outstanding collection of backing musicians (including a brief contribution from British skiffle legend Acker Bilk on clarinet on "Evening Shadows"), Down the Road rivals some of Morrison's strongest work. By tipping his hat to the past, Morrison finds a way to avoid ruminating on the cruelties of time that often accompany those memories. In this sense, Morrison is well aware that the forgotten fate of PJ Proby could potentially be his at any time, as he candidly admits: "I'm making my way down the highway / Still got a monkey on my back / Facing head on and doing it my way / Please can you cut me some slack?"





Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".


The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?


Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.


Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.


Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.


Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.


Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.


Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.


Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.


Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.