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This re-working of Van Morrison songs as duets with famous friends is loose, relaxed, and a joy to hear.

Music Review: Van Morrison – ‘Duets: Re-Working the Catalogue’

Van Morrison’s very name invokes the best image of the singer/songwriter and defines the word “visionary” for many people. With 360 songs over his career, Morrison set out to revisit and re-work some of them as duets with some of his favorite performers. He deliberately did not choose his best-known work and chose other lesser-known numbers for the project and then created new arrangements for them.

The result is a fresh and exciting look at 16 strong songs, performed by Morrison with Bobby Womack (who passed away last June at age 70), Steve Winwood, Mark Knopfler, Taj Mahal, Mavis Staples, Michael Bublé, Natalie Cole, George Benson, Gregory Porter, Clare Teal, P.J. Proby, Joss Stone, Georgie Fame, Mick Hucknall, Chris Farlowe, and Morrison’s daughter Shana Morrison. The album was recorded in Belfast and in London.

250px-Van-MorrisonAll of these artists’ voices blend beautifully with Morrison’s. The opening duet with Womack, “Some Peace of Mind,” is especially poignant since he died shortly after the recording. The funky soul number is a fitting farewell for the great soul performer. It is followed by “If I Ever Needed Someone,” with the incomparable Mavis Staples. With a pairing like that, you expect greatness and you get it, as Staples and Morrison egg each other on to greater and greater depths of gospel passion.

Benson then joins Morrison for “Higher Than the World,” soulful jazz which benefits greatly from Benson’s virtuoso guitar. Stone adds beauty and grace to the laid-back blues of “Wild Honey,” and this reviewer was personally thrilled when Proby showed up for Morrison’s “Whatever Happened to P.J Proby,” which was originally released in 2002. This New Orleans-inspired rave-up is pure delight.

Teal adds wistfulness to “Carrying a Torch,” while Porter helps Morrison capture the true spirit of “The Eternal Kansas City.” Hucknell and Knopler tap into Irish soul with the great man on “Streets of Arklow” and one of this reporter’s favorite Morrison tunes, “Irish Heartbeat.” Cole gives elegance to “These Are the Days,” while it was a sheer joy to hear the great Georgie Fame having an obvious blast with Morrison on the beach-soul “Get On with the Show.” Shana Morrison then proves what a fine musician she is in her own right when she joins her father for the fiery “Rough God Goes Riding,’ definitely a highlight of the collection.

The legendary Winwood and Farlowe make soulful partners for “Fire in the Belly” and “Born to Sing,” respectively. Bublé proves he’s more than a crooner on “Real Real Gone” and the final song, “How Can a Poor Boy?” captures the relaxed, loose yet intense feeling of the whole recording as Mahal and Morrison blast through the song only to dissolve into laughter at the end.

This is a a thoroughly successful project and an album that is sure to become a favorite of any fan.

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, Southern Crossroads: Georgia Bluesand Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.

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