Down the Road
First Appeared at The Music Box, July 2002, Volume 9, #7
Written by John Metzger
In the rate at which Van Morrison releases albums, it’s not surprising that the bulk of them are reasonably strong, but not wholly essential outings. But every few years, Morrison manages to tap into some magical space that sums up both his career and his influences in one fell swoop. Not that they’re all that groundbreaking; they’re just penultimate pieces of perfection.
Such is the case with his latest near-masterpiece Down the Road, which finds him fondly recalling the folk, blues, and jazz to which he grew up listening. Morrison has made a career of mining this territory, so the fact that he occasionally can still produce albums such as this is truly a remarkable feat. For certain, Morrison just as easily could sleepwalk through such a repertoire — and on several releases, it definitely seemed like he had — but on Down the Road, he fills each song with such incredible passion and feeling that it’s impossible not to be moved. In fact, the only misfire is a cover of Georgia on My Mind, which plainly pales in comparison with Ray Charles’ impeccably quintessential rendition.
As for the remainder of the album, the title track is an undeniable classic — as good as anything from Moondance. The heavy organ that drifts throughout the song as short bursts of guitar and harmonica color the edges — well, it’s all vaguely familiar, yet gloriously new. The same can be said for Steal My Heart Away with its tender strains colorfully painted by flugelhorn and flute or the laid-back country standout What Makes the Irish Heartbeat. On songs like Meet Me in the Indian Summer, All Work and No Play, Talk Is Cheap, and Choppin’ Wood, Morrison corrects all the uninspired jazz-blues tunes that have flavored many of his more recent endeavors. Here, he turns in a series of lively performances that, much like his concerts, simply groove. Additionally, he blends Sam Cooke with ’50s Doo Wop on Hey Mr. DJ, questions the relevance of today’s music in comparison with faded and forgotten ’60s Brit-pop stars on Whatever Happened to PJ Proby?. He reworks one of his modern classics (Days Like This) to create something even better (Man Has to Struggle), and he caps things off with the beautiful, earthy ballad Fast Train.
Indeed, Morrison has had such a lengthy and rewarding career, it’s hard for many to move beyond the legendary streak of albums that marked his introduction to the world in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Although his releases since this period have included more misses than hits, that’s not to say that Morrison hasn’t occasionally struck gold. With Down the Road, he does so again. The singer with the Irish heartbeat is back on top, parlaying his hymns to the silence into visions of beauty.
Down the Road is also available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box