Born in 1945, a shipyard worker’s son, raised listening to country, blues, and gospel, a young Van Morrison was a traveling musician at 13 playing the guitar and sax in several bands until he formed Them in 1964. And now 53 years later, with 37 albums on the shelf, 2 Grammy Awards, an induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (‘93), Knighted with the Order of the British Empire, and so many more accolades, he just released his latest effort in September 2017, Roll with The Punches. An apt title for a legend who just keeps giving it.
Roll with the Punches is a bluesy affair that has him looking back, reconnecting with artists such as Bo Diddley, Little Walter, Mose Allison, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Leadbelly, influences he first heard on his radiogram as a kid, and contributions on the record from the likes of Georgie Fame, Chris Farlowe, Paul Jones, and Jeff Beck. It is an autobiographical collection of songs that explore his relationship to music through the many dimensions of his voice with the blues, rock, and soul. The title track’s opening line, “One thing I’ve learned after all these years, you’re gonna save your soul, a whole lot of tears, Don’t try to figure out who was wrong who was right, got to move along baby, that's right, you gotta roll with the punches, yeah you’ve got to go with the flow” written by Morrison and Don Black, pretty well wraps up his career through so many years and genres, yet remains fresh and crisp, and shows just how he can ‘inhibit’ any song he plays while staying true to their import. Transformation is a soulful wind performed with Farlowe and as well on I Can Tell, (Bo Diddley) that you will have you swaying to and fro. A honky tonk piano blues ditty called How Far from God rocks along in great Chicago juke joint tradition.
The harmonica takes the lead on T-Bone Walker’s Stormy Monday fused with Lonely Avenue by Doc Pomus, recorded by Ray Charles way back when, he blows a harp solo that sounds like a rusted metal rooster, over the gnarly Jeff Beck guitar impulses. Another cover on the album is Bring It On Home to Me, a Sam Cooke classic. This is a lovely rendition where Sir Van’s voice is just deliciously deliberate yet easy in harmony with some tasty background vocals. But the real star of the song is Jeff Beck's iconic Fender Stratocaster who delivers a splendid solo.
The album’s shining star perhaps is Goin to Chicago,(Count Basie/Jimmy Rushing) accompanied by Georgie Fame and Chris Hill who plucks out a walking bassline spine to the number. Morrison and Fame sing a tandem dialogue, a back and forth; Sir Van “Goin to Chicago, sorry that I can’t take you” and Georgie replies “I come from Chi-town, Chi-town is my town”. The effect is lovely, two great singers tracing and retracing phrases to perfection.
“The songs on Roll With the Punches - whether I’ve written them or not - they’re performance oriented. Each song is like a story and I’m performing the story. That’s been forgotten over the years because people over-analyze things.I was a performer before I started writing songs, and I’ve always felt like that’s what I do” he stated on the release.
Van Morrison has been stretching music in remarkable ways for decades,at 72, the man who gave us such heartfelt love songs like Tupelo Honey, Have I Told You Lately, and Crazy Love, that brought lovers together the world over, is just as adorable as he always was. We recommend to jot this one down on your Christmas list. It’s a beautiful album for keeps.