Van Morrison will perform at Forest Hills Stadium in Queens on Sunday as part of his U.S. tour.
By Colleen Taylor
Van Morrison needs no introduction. But his new album does. The rock n’ roll Hall of Famer and Belfast native is, even after 50 years of writing and performing, still at it. The aptly -titled “Keep Me Singing” was released nationwide on Sept. 30. “Keep Me Singing” marks Van Morrison’s 36th studio album and another installation of countless original songs. Van Morrison clearly has access to the elixir of life and the elixir of creativity.
Van Morrison might need re-introduction, however—as Sir Van Morrison. This past year, the singer was knighted in honor of his musical achievement and his service to charities in Northern Ireland. Now officially in the company other knighted mega rock stars like the Paul McCartney and Elton John, Sir Van has come a long way since his breakthrough “Brown Eyed Girl.” For Irish music fans, his “Irish Heartbeat,” recorded with the Chieftains, is an anthem with universal appeal and classic cultural status. Whether Irish trad fanatic or rock n’ roller, the consensus stands: there is only one Van Morrison, and he defies reduction to crude musical categories and stands out clearly as an individual with poetic lyric-writing skill to match his musical composition.
Needless to say, Van Morrison didn’t need another album to maintain his career, but creative output seems to be as much a life essential for Van Morrison as air is for the rest of us mortals. “Keep Me Singing” features 12 original songs by Van Morrison as well as a cover of “Share Your Love with Me,” a blues classic. My personal favorite is “Caledonia Swing”—a song that makes me smile as much for its title as its sound. The very concept of “Caledonia Swing”—an allusion to Scottish and Celtic culture and early 20th century swing music—encompasses the character and genius of Van Morrison as a recording artist. The track is jaunty and rhythmic like a traditional Irish set, but with the attitude of the bluesy saxophone. As “Caledonia Swing” evinces, Sir Van understands music and cultural crossover through an insightful ear very few can match.
“Keep Me Singing” is joyous, almost reverent at times. It sounds like the album version of a thank-you note or speech of gratitude. The album celebrates, pauses and reflects, and most importantly, keeps the energy going. A few of the songs feature some gospel vocals and influences. Song titles like “Memory Lane” and “Holy Guardian Angle” attest to its themes of reverence and reflection. “Going Down to Bangor,” on the other hand, sounds more like the original Sir Van that most listeners will be familiar with. It’s soulful, playful, bold and brassy.
Whether you’re a diehard fan, or know Van Morrison through the Chieftains, or simply as the guy who did “Brown-Eyed Girl,” this latest, 36th edition has something for you. Having listened to it straight through, it strikes me that “Keep Me Singing” manages to encompass almost all of the different facets of Van Morrison as a songwriter—the bold, the upbeat, the Irish, the blues, the sentimental, and the lover. As his knighthood proves, Van Morrison is a classic.
As part of his album release, Van Morrison will be touring the States this month. He’ll play the Forest Hills Stadium in New York on Oct. 9.
There’s more good news to share with Irish rock fans. Galway rock band The Stunning is also back in business. They’ll be playing New York area shows on Nov. 3 and 4 and finally topping it off with a gig at Connolly’s on Nov. 5.
Long live Irish rock n’ roll.
Colleen Taylor’s Music Notes column appears each week in the Irish Echo.