Van Morrison And Joey DeFrancesco Make A Lethal Addition To An Old Canon

May 9, 2018
Originally published on May 9, 2018 7:52 pm

Van Morrison was 22 years old, flat broke and running out of options when he and a skeleton crew of jazz musicians recorded what became his most heralded album, released 50 years ago. The Irish singer and songwriter said the title of that record, Astral Weeks, described his writing process. The songs were "channeled works" — fever dreams, rich in poetry and mysticism.

They're also timeless. Now 72, Morrison tears through "The Way Young Lovers Do" on his newest album, You're Driving Me Crazy — assisted by star organist Joey DeFrancesco and his group.

Van Morrison has always been able to reach out and grab listeners with his wily, snarling voice. Long ago, he soaked up the timing of the great soul singers, like Solomon Burke. More recently, he's been going to school on jazz vocalists, which has opened him up. It's the wonder of encore career wonders: Morrison actually sounds lethal working with DeFrancesco's hard-swinging group.

Since 2000, Morrison has released 15 records, including several themed collections of country and blues classics and a live version of Astral Weeks recorded at the Hollywood Bowl. They're all competent and intermittently rousing, but none are as feisty from start to finish as this new album.

Credit for some of that energy goes to DeFrancesco, the veteran who's devoted his career to extending the organ-jazz tradition. His high-wattage grooves clearly challenge Morrison, even on the straightforward blues of "Goldfish Bowl."

Listening to this set, you get the impression that Van Morrison doesn't care too much about preserving his legacy: His focus is on the present. While his contemporaries are doing paint-by-numbers greatest hits tours, he's out there ad-libbing, taking on really old songs in ways that make them sound new again.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Van Morrison's classic album "Astral Weeks."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WAY YOUNG LOVERS DO ")

VAN MORRISON: (Singing) We strolled through fields all wet with rain and back along the lane again there in the sunshine in the sweet summertime.

CORNISH: The Irish singer recently collaborated with star organist Joey DeFrancesco on a new version of the song. It's part of Morrison's new album called "You're Driving Me Crazy." Tom Moon has our review.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Van Morrison was 22 years old, flat broke and running out of options when he and a skeleton crew of jazz musicians recorded what became his most heralded album, "Astral Weeks." He said that the title described his writing process. The songs were, quote, "channeled works" - fever dreams, rich in poetry and mysticism. They're also timeless. Here's Morrison, now 72, tearing through the song with Joey DeFrancesco's group.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WAY YOUNG LOVERS DO")

MORRISON: (Singing) Stroll through fields all wet with rain back along the lane again in the sunshine in the summertime.

MOON: Van Morrison has always been able to reach out and grab listeners with that wily, snarling voice. Long ago, he soaked up the timing of the great soul singers like Ray Charles and Solomon Burke. More recently, he's been going to school on jazz vocalists. It's opened him up - wonder of encore career wonders. Morrison actually sounds lethal working with Joey DeFrancesco's hard-swinging group.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRAVELIN' LIGHT")

MORRISON: (Singing) Got nobody to see. I'm as free as the breeze - as the breeze - nobody but me (ph).

MOON: Since 2000, Morrison has released 15 records, including several themed collections of country and blues classics and a live version of "Astral Weeks" recorded at the Hollywood Bowl. They're all competent, intermittently rousing, but none are as feisty from start to finish as this new one.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVENING SHADOWS")

MORRISON: (Singing) Evening shadows fall. Minutes seem so long. When evening shadows fall, waiting for the dawn, miss you every night just about this time.

MOON: Credit for some of that energy goes to Joey DeFrancesco, the veteran who's devoted his career to extending the organ jazz tradition. His high-wattage grooves clearly challenge Morrison, even on this straightforward blues.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOLDFISH BOWL")

MORRISON: (Singing) Some rock 'n' roll, folk music with a beat and a whole lot of soul. I ain't got no hit record. Man, I ain't doing no TV shows.

MOON: Listening to this set, you get the impression that Van Morrison doesn't care too much about preserving his legacy. His focus is on the present. While his contemporaries are doing paint-by-numbers greatest hits tours, he's out there adlibbing, roaring through really old songs in ways that make them sound new again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE THINGS I USED TO DO")

MORRISON: (Singing) Things I used to do, I don't do no more - yeah. Things I used to do, I don't do no more. Used to hold your hand, baby, beg you please don't go (ph).

CORNISH: Van Morrison's latest album is "You Are Driving Me Crazy." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE THINGS I USED TO DO")

MORRISON: (Singing) Searching will always be in vain. Searching for you everywhere, but my searching will always be in vain. You are way across town with some fancy man (ph). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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