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A friend for years

Van Morrison - Magic Time
2 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: May 27, 2005
Van Morrison

Review by John Halverson

Van Morrison has been my friend for years. I've sung in the car with him. I've introduced him to others.
When I've been happy, he's helped me celebrate. When I've been down, his deep soulful Irish melancholy has given me hope.
But, Magic Time, his latest CD, is not much more than a copy of things he's done better before. It sounds a lot like Down the Road a somewhat better album from 2002. In both, we have a song about Indian summer. He's continuing his "I got screwed by the record industry" theme. He may now be the only artist ever to have recorded two songs about lions. And, as he has done for the last three albums, he's thrown in jazz standards.
Van has always been uneven. But in the past his failures or indulgent masterpieces have been because he was trying too hard. The sad part about Magic Time is that he doesn't seem like he's trying at all.
There are two solid efforts, the driving "Evening Train" and the album's title song, which is another indulgence in one of Van's favorite dalliances, his fascination with nostalgia and innocence. It's a lot like the cover art, schmaltzy but artful enough to work.
"Stranded," with Van on the sax recalls the underrated "Poetic Champions Compose." On "Carry On Regardless" Van actually sounds like he's enjoying himself even going as far as to yodel.
As for the jazz covers, it seems that Van thinks he's being a grown-up if he evolves into Mose Allison, but the most he'll ever be is an imitation of someone else.
What's wrong with being Van? Few others can dig down so deeply or match his searing voice and heartfelt lyrics. I'd go back to It's Too Late to Stop Now, or A Night in San Francisco, two of the best live albums ever. For pop hooks, I'm partial to Wavelength or Into the Music Others like Astral Weeks or Moondance.
Sad thing is, all were done before 1994.
We can hope for a comeback, but based on his recent efforts it might be better to live in the past.

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