Van Morrison, “The Prophet Speaks”

Van Morrison
The Prophet Speaks
EXILE/CAROLINE INTERNATIONAL
7/10

At seventy-three years old, Van Morrison has the soul of a veteran musical icon and the curiosity (and output) of a newbie. Only recent Grammy nominee H.E.R. is comparable when it comes to releasing fresh R&B sounds. The Prophet Speaks is Morrison’s fourth album in fourteen months, and manages to be twice as surprising as any in that quartet of new releases. Not only because it proves, once-and-for-all, that the Northern Irish singer-songwriter and instrumentalist may be the twentieth century’s most fascinating interpreter of other composers’ vocal music—but because The Prophet Speaks shows that he’s still cranking out deeply soulful original compositions with laid back jazz passages to match his choice in covers.

Just as recent albums released this year and last, Roll With the Punches, Versatile, and You’re Driving Me Crazy (the latter co-starring and co-billing Philadelphia organ trio enthusiast Joey DeFrancesco, who also appears on the new one), Prophet Speaks breathes deep the air of old school blues, jazz, and R&B without losing a contemporary cool.

That the gruff-yet-fluid vocalist and writer found fresh and funky terrain on tracks such as his lush and windy “Got to Go Where the Love Is” or the deeply grooving “Ain’t Gonna Moan No More” is a true feat. You could blame or credit DeFrancesco & Co. for aiding Morrison in burrowing that soulful sluice, as well as giving cheer to Van the Man for an inventive vocalese that carries into tracks such as the scatting “Worried Blues / Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” “Gotta Get You Off My Mind,” or anything here by past masters Sam Cooke, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, and Solomon Burke. Cooke’s “Laughin’ and Clownin’” is of particular impassioned interest, as Morrison’s surprisingly sensual voice bleats like a tenor saxophone with a leak and cracks like the creases in aging beautiful skin.

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