Van the Man has a great blues voice. He’s got a magnificent sense of rhythm. Morrison knows when to hit the beat and push the song forward and when to glide over the melody. The timbre of his voice may be leathery, but he has an infectious way of transporting the listener through a song from beginning to end. When he repeats lines, as is often done on his bluesy new album Roll With the Punches, he gets into a solid groove that makes each nuance revelatory.
That results in some serious lip twisting. If you are not sure what that means, try singing along to any of the songs the way Morrison does, and you will understand when you find your maws in a tumble. Combined with his Irish accent, he can make lines such as “move on along” into “mowing your lawn” and such. Morrison enthusiastically attacks the 16 tracks here — 11 old blues numbers and five new originals composed in a similar style — so that it doesn’t matter if he’s singing about God or sex or death or cars; he does so with a sense of urgency.
Calling Morrison enigmatic is like calling candy sweet; it’s the defining characteristic. Morrison’s best music has always been complex and mysterious. He sings with a soulful voice about matters physical and metaphysical. He can be literarily ambitious or plain spoken. Morrison has complained that listeners find stuff in his compositions that he never intended, but his lyrics invite multiple interpretations. And when he does covers, he reveals the many levels on which the words can be understood. He addresses this topic on the self-penned “Fame” that namechecks Andy Warhol and throws in musical references to David Bowie and John Lennon.
Van is really Sir Morrison. He’s a Knight with a capital “K”. He first toured Europe as a musician when he was just 17 years old in 1962. He’s sold millions and millions of records. Roll with the Punches is his 37th studio album. He’s done it all musically — been into the mystic and on the drug-addled streets, in and out of love, lost in the rain and warmed by the sun. He’s got nothing to prove. The artist could coast on his reputation, but his take on songs like Lightnin’ Hopkins sexy “Automobile Blues” and “Bo Diddley’s rollicking “Ride on Josephine” show Morrison still has the motor running. This new CD proves how much he still loves performing.
That said, the more emotional songs, such as Ruby Toombs’ weepy “Teardrops From My Eyes” Count Basie & Jimmy Rushing vindictive “Goin’ to Chicago”, sound better than the more fun ones. While Morrison shows that he still can stretch out a word or repeat it rat-a-tat style, the music’s more interesting when it doesn’t call attention to itself. No doubt it would be these same tracks, such as Sam Cooke’s oft-covered “Bring It on Home to Me” and the medley “Stormy Monday / Lonely Avenue” (T-Bone Walker / Doc Pomus) that would get the most applause live.
Morrison is touring again, and no doubt will play the new material here. A link to his website reveals that most of the shows have already sold out and even balcony seats will run one over $200 US. In this world of hurricanes, earthquakes, refugees, and war, it’s difficult to know if that’s the best way to spend one’s money. This album can be purchased at a much lower price.