Van Morrison: The Best of Van Morrison

Van Morrison's had a pretty off decade -- or has he?

Van Morrison

The Best of Van Morrison: Volume 3

Label: EMI
US Release Date: 2007-06-19
UK Release Date: 2007-06-11

As the story goes, Van Morrison wanted nothing to do with his first greatest hits collection, The Best of Van Morrison, Vol. 1. He probably warmed up to the idea, though, after the sales figures started pouring in -- year after year after year. He personally selected the songs that went into the second volume, and does so again on his newest collection, Volume 3.

In Morrison's typically iconoclastic fashion, though, Volume 3 is a curious collection. Spanning his 1993-2005 output, it covers a stretch of Morrison's career marked by more than a few so-so albums. To his credit, he recognizes the best tracks -- songs like "Too Long in Exile", "Days Like This", "Ancient Highway", and "Precious Time" -- from those years. He also delves deep into his history of collaborations and live performances. So the listener is presented with the opportunity to evaluate Morrison as a total performer.

It's a canny move -- perhaps one necessitated by the overall quality of his recent studio output, but probably not. No one forced Van Morrison to make Volume 3 a two-disc, 31-song affair, so he obviously takes this new retrospective as an opportunity to frame the last decade-and-a half on his terms.

The live tracks remind us of what we've always known about Morrison -- that he's got soul and charisma to spare. The tracks here don't find him coasting, and as usual, he's backed by crack musicians. An uptempo version of "Help Me", featuring Junior Wells, simmers with a warm "Green Onions" vibe. Morrison's leisurely medley of "Lonely Avenue" and "4 O'Clock in the Morning" features a weary, groanin' late-night vocal courtesy of blues great Jimmy Witherspoon.

Collaborations and duets like that may be Volume 3's biggest revelation; pictures of Morrison with his partners even dominate the album cover. Morrison possesses an exhaustive knowledge of vintage R&B and jazz, and seems to jump at the chance to record with the greats. John Lee Hooker sits in for a run-through of "Gloria", while Georgie Fame joins in on "Moondance", "Centerpiece", and "Benediction". Lonnie Donegan (a skiffle-flavored "Lost John"), the Chieftains, Ray Charles (a gently swaying "Crazy Love") , Carl Perkins (a rockabilly-driven "Sitting on Top of the World"), Bobby Bland, BB King, and others also make appearances. Almost without fail, these meetings are high-quality stuff.

If you're skeptical of Van Morrison's recent output, Volume 3 wins you over. The studio tracks exhibit the smoothness that Morrison's always possessed, while the live tracks show his talent for going with a song's flow. On the duets, Morrison's clearly comfortable with artists who are either his heroes or his equals. True, it hides the fact that the last decade or so hasn't been Morrison's best -- or maybe it forces you to reevaluate that notion. Maybe his original material wasn't the right place to look, as he sounds like he's having a blast on the live cuts on the duets. Morrison's career still cries out for a comprehensive, career-spanning treatment, but Volume 3 succeeds in its goal of shining a new light on his recent work.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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