Van Morrison

Those who've followed Van Morrison faithfully through his myriad solo releases and collaborations know that he's put out a handful of towering monuments as well as some relative dogs. His latest release features many of the classic elements he's doled out over the years: jazz- and blues-inflected power vocals, thoughtful, poetic songwriting, compositional variety, feel-good melodies and plenty of funky Irish soul. What's Wrong With This Picture? sets these well-acclaimed moves against the usual landscape of insecurities and troubles; themes include solitude, lost love, drinking, perseverance and a healthy peppering of philosophical quandaries. Alternately pensive and ebullient, Morrison gets reflective on the slower material, then rocks on up-tempo numbers such as "Stop Drinking," a blues cut originally penned by Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins, as well as on his own blue gem, "Whinin Boy Moan." Poet that he is, he minces no words in making his point: "Let the whinin' boy moan if you don't know how to do it yourself/'Cause he can do it better, better than anyone else." He even belts out some respectable alto sax, while his skilled backing band punches up the groove. And his take on the traditional "St. James Infirmary" demonstrates not only his love of the blues, but his ability to bring the genre to life. Elsewhere, "Little Village" recalls the string-sweetened strains of Astral Weeks. Sitting among his higher recorded achievements, What's Wrong provides strong evidence that this well-seasoned Van is still working.

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