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Music Reviews

Randy's Buttons

July 7, 1993

Ball and Chain

Van MorrisonVan Morrison, Too Long in Exile (Polydor 1993) -- Van Morrison is a true artists's artist. His music embraces numerous genres, including pop, rock, blues, soul, country, and gospel. Top that off with an enigmatic and irascible Irish personality, and you have a mainstay of modern music.

Maybe you've been hearing all the goods things about Too Long in Exile. Exile is a fine album, with tight arrangements and crystal clear production work. Highlights include the title track, the blues-inspired "Ball & Chain", and "Gloria" (a duet with John Lee Hooker), which is a remake of Van's hit from the '60s.

But everybody's missing the point. Critics are acting like Exile is a sudden return to form by Van the Man after lo these many years. They are wrong. Okay, Van's recordings from about 1980 through 1987 (the "Into the Mystic") period were difficult. Moody, spiritual songs, with moody, rambling arrangements. There were some great tunes, but you had to look for them.

What's happened, though, and what everyone seems to be ignoring, is the synergy between Van and his band leader, Georgie Fame. Georgie Fame is a British keyboardist and vocalist who had some pop success in England in the early '60s. In recent years, Georgie has become more of a jazz musician, and released a pop/jazz recording in 1990 called Cool Cat Blues (Blue Moon).

The real driving force behind Van Morrison's music these days is his partnership with Georgie Fame. If you want proof, get the video called Van Morrison: The Concert (Polygram 1990), which is a jammin' live show recorded at New York's Beacon Theater on November 30, 1989. The Concert is the true beginning of the return from exile. With Georgie Fame on vocals and keyboards, and Van on guitars and vocals, the band is unstoppable.

Highlights on The Concert include "Carrickfergus" (a traditional Irish number) and "In the Garden" (with its memorable line "No guru, No method, No teacher"). You want to see what inspired Van Morrison? Compare the previously-released version of "In the Garden" (which is flat and static) with the live version on The Concert. There is no comparison. Georgie drives Van, and Van drives the band.

John Lee Hooker is featured on two songs on The Concert. John Lee also appears on Exile. Georgie Fame appears on both recordings. The connection is closer.

Exile stands not in isolation, but is a continuation of Van's efforts during the past five years, a period which included the excellent Enlightenment (Polydor 1990) and the double-disk Hymns to the Silence (Polydor 1991).

In conjunction with the release of Exile, Van has also released two import-only CD singles. Each single includes the album version of "Gloria" and three live performances from Europe in 1991. Reportedly, the live performances are taken from bootleg tapes made by a fan in the audience. It shows. These disks are not essential (except for collectors).

Rod StewartHere's a beef. Rod Stewart has recently been getting airplay for the song "Have I Told You Lately", taken from Rod the Mod's new release Unplugged ... and Seated (Warner 1993). Unplugged ... and Seated is a respectable show (Rod can still get good mileage from old chestnuts like "Maggie May"), but doesn't break any new ground.

Van originally released "Have I Told You Lately" in 1989. Van's version touches your heart. It went nowhere on the charts. Rod's version is a soft pop cover designed to appeal to yuppies. It's getting radio time. This isn't fair. Attention Polydor!! Promote your artists. Critics can't do it all.

Van is back. Long live Van Morrison.

-- Randy Krbechek

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