Pay the Devil
First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2006, Volume 13, #2
Written by John Metzger
Much is being made of the Nashville-brewed slant that Van Morrison gave to his latest project Pay the Devil, but his new direction isnít nearly as startling as it first appears to be. After all, there always has been a touch of country lurking beneath the surface of his distinctive blend of Celtic folk, jazz, and R&B ó so much so that Robbie Robertson dubbed him the "Belfast Cowboy" a full 25 years ago. More recently, on his 1991 outing Hymns to the Silence, Morrison tackled Don Gibsonís I Canít Stop Loving You, and in 2000, he and Linda Gail Lewis interpreted a trio of classic compositions by Hank Williams [Why Donít You Love Me (Like You Used to Do)?, You Win Again, and Jambalaya (on the Bayou)]. Therefore, the issuance of such a twang-infused set isnít necessarily a huge surprise.
What is perplexing, however, is that Morrison lent only three original compositions (Playhouse, This Has Got to Stop, and the title track) to Pay the Devil, opting instead to record a slew of cover songs that run the gamut from Rodney Crowellís Till I Gain Control Again to Curley Williamsí Half as Much to Merle Kilgoreís More and More. Nevertheless, what easily could have been a perfunctorily performed collection of material actually becomes something more ó though, it has less to do with the standard-fare arrangements of weepy fiddle, tear-stained pedal steel, subtle strings, and the occasional backing chorale than it does with Morrisonís own richly emotional vocal contributions. Much like his hero Ray Charles did on both volumes of Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Morrison uncovers the pain as well as the salvation that beats within countryís blues and gospel heart. Although Pay the Devil isnít quite as strong as his other recent outings, such as Down the Road and Magic Time, it is a highly enjoyable set that proves that Morrison can succeed in any genre that he desires. Ĺ
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box