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kind of music

Van Morrison - Live at Austin City Limits
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Aug. 9, 2007
Van Morrison

Review by John Halverson

A few months ago, I wrote Van Morrison's obituary. Great talent lost. Over the hill. No more history to write. Well, I was least for one album.

Considering all three CDs this year are compendiums of previous material, and considering how uncreative he has been the last few years, it seemed like rigamortis was about to set in. But one of those CDs, Live at Austin City Limits has enough signs of life that I am again hopeful that Van still has something left in his tank. Live At is a rendition of greatest hits and a plug for his country album. It was released in 2006 a few months before his Austin City appearance. Unfortunately, this CD is only for sale at concerts or overseas, but when it does become available elsewhere I challenge listeners to describe the CDs' style with the words we usually use. Is it country, Western swing, rockabilly or rock?

At his virtuoso best, Van has managed to mix various genres in a way that is flattering to them all but unique just the same. I can still do without his versions of classic country songs, but even some of those-"I Can't Stop Loving You" and, especially, "Don't You Make Me High" are more dynamic and less ponderous than they were when he sang them on "Pay the Devil." It's hard to believe that an Irish balladeer schooled in the blues can do country but it seems that heartfelt material of all those styles come from the same roots of angst and longing.

What's most fun about Austin City is how that country swing harmonizes so well with Van's older hits. Add country to Van classics like "Bright Side of the Road" and "Wild Night" makes for a twangy, tangy soulfulness. Fizz and sinew. Hard-edged feelings mixed with a champagne-bubble glee. The end result is almost a new type of music. Let's call it country-Hawaiian swing. Tony Fitzgibbon's violin adds much of the country flavor along with the arrangements. Adding to this tossed salad of musical brands are two female backup singers. They add a girl-group soul sound more resembling Van of the 1970s than of recent times. What a combination.

One Austin City reviewer said Van was wearing a white hat during the performance. A look at a clip of the show proves he had on his trademark black fedora-part of the Goth look he's sported the last few years. Maybe the reviewer just closed his eyes, listened to the music and thought the man singing it must be partly made of pure joy. Roy Rogers meets the blues. The cynic in me finds it hard to believe that Van still finds inspiration in "Brown Eyed Girl"-a song he refused to sing for years, "Moondance" or the other Van classics on this CD. But he does put a new twist on those old bones and seems to have a twinkle in his eye when he does it.

Another Van classic, "It's All In The Game/You Know What They're Writing About" is a far cry from the intense, nearly operatic version on "Into the Music" but he manages to swing and sway it in an equally enjoyable, though less visceral, way. "Back on Top" is the apropos leadoff to "Austin City." Unlike the original version, the "Austin City" one sounds less challenging and more celebratory.

Less "I'm Back On Top and Get Out of My Way." More "I'm Back on Top and Liking It.". .

Watch Van Morrison perform - "Real Real Gone" at ACL Fest 2006

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