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.





Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.


The Rules Don't Apply to These Nonconformist Novelists

Ian Haydn Smith's succinct biographies in Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know entice even seasoned bibliophiles.


Siren Songs' Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels Debut As a Folk Duo (album stream + interview)

Best friends and longtime musical collaborators Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels team up as Siren Songs for the uplifting folk of their eponymous LP.


Buzzcocks' 1993 Comeback 'Trade Test Transmissions' Showed Punk's Great Survivors' Consistency

PopMatters' appraisal of Buzzcocks continues with the band's proper comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions, now reissued on Cherry Red Records' new box-set, Sell You Everything.


Archie Shepp, Raw Poetic, and Damu the Fudgemunk Enlighten and Enliven with 'Ocean Bridges'

Ocean Bridges is proof that genre crossovers can sound organic, and that the term "crossover" doesn't have to come loaded with gimmicky connotations. Maybe we're headed for a world in which genres are so fluid that the term is dropped altogether from the cultural lexicon.


Claude McKay's 'Romance in Marseille' Is Ahead of Its Time

Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille -- only recently published -- pushes boundaries on sexuality, disability, identity -- all in gorgeous poetic prose.


Christine Ott Brings the Ondes Martenot to New Heights with the Mesmerizing 'Chimères'

France's Christine Ott, known for her work as an orchestral musician and film composer, has created a unique new solo album, Chimères, that spotlights an obscure instrument.


Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.


The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.


ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.


Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

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.