Van Morrison – Born to Sing: No Plan B

January 01, 1970

(Blue Note Records)


It’s entirely possible the world has been waiting for Van
Morrison to check in with his opinions on the evils of capitalism and naked
greed, but in reality, odds are against this. Van the Man has long been one of
the crankiest of rock stars, forcing those of us who love him for his ability
to transcend time and space to deal with the occasional rants about the
mediocrity of the rest of the world. “Sartre said hell is other people, I
believe that most of them are / Well, their pettiness amazes me even after I’ve
gone this far.” That’s from a beautiful sounding blues cut on this new record
with the astoundingly unbluesy title “Going Down to Monte
Carlo,” unbluesy because he takes pains to point out Monte Carlo is only 25 k
from Nice.


So what do we do when Morrison turns his evil eye on
subjects with which we agree? Well, we can point out that he’s not exactly
focused in the album-ending “Educating Archie,” as he veers between assaults on
capitalism itself and complaints about the wrong entertainment on TV. But
really, that’s splitting hairs. “They’ll tell you up is down” is pretty much
the truth of it, and when he and the band start cooking on this upbeat, jazzy
blues number, it feels like time to jump on the table and shake our fist at the
powers that be right along with him. It’s certainly not effective, and it
doesn’t allow for nuanced argument, but it does what the blues are supposed to
do, sharing our problems in the hopes not of eliminating them, but of allowing
us to feel a little better.


Elsewhere, problems with the monetary system get integrated
into Morrison’s long-lived spiritual quests on the ecstatic “If It’s Money We
Trust.” Against an elastic groove of piano, acoustic bass, congas and trap
drums, with trumpet and Morrison’s alto sax harmonizing softly beneath, his
chanted vocals sound like the roll call on judgment day until he shouts loudly,
“Where’s God?” It’s not as though he’s insisting he knows the answer, either.
The song is a mournful cry, a mysterious sigh, but not a declaration of
religious certainty.  Imagine a mash-up
between Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly score
and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme,
with Van Morrison vocals on top. This is easily the best song on the album.


Morrison returns to the newly revamped Blue Note label for
this album, and it sounds as though he’s taking seriously the jazz connections
this implies. With a tight backing band and his own alto sax and guitar
contributions, most of the songs emphasize instrumental solos at least as much as
his vocals. The solos are short, but they are tightly constructed little
melodic statements virtually every time. One song, “Close Enough For Jazz,”
lasts three or four minutes before Morrison even decides to sing. Apparently,
this one was conceived as an instrumental before he came up with the idea to
add some words.


Ranked against the records in Morrison’s storied 45-year
solo career, Born To Sing: No Plan B falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. It’s not the exploratory mysticism
of Astral Weeks, or the funky joys of
Wavelength, or the punchy pop
delights of St. Dominic’s Preview, or
even the autobiographical meditations of Hymns
to the Silence
. But, in the last ten or fifteen years, only 2005’s Magic Time has delivered more
consistently enjoyable songs than this thoroughly captivating collection of
rants, loves, and dreams.


“Open the Door (To Your Heart),” “If In Money We Trust,” “Pagan Heart.” STEVE

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