It may look simple, but only a master like Van could pull this off.
Chris Jones 2008-03-19
The Man returns. And after over 40 years of telling us that it ain't why, it just is, who are we to argue as to whether it's good or bad? But the really good news is that after his somewhat dodgy foray into country with Pay The Devil, he's really back on top. What's more he even sounds...cheerful. Which is strange, because Keep It Simple is a mainly bluesy affair. He's returned to the usual mixture of autobiographical fare (School Of Hard Knocks) and the kind of folky r 'n' b that may be chock-full of lyrical cliche (cf: the punningly-titled That's Entrainment) but is always lifted by a voice that really hasn't deteriorated much in the last twenty years. Let's face it: the blues wouldn't be the blues without it's lyrical template. It's the way it's sung that matters, and Van is still peerless in this respect.
But Keep It Simple also seems to have a certain amount of atonement for past sins about it. For every song like School Of Hard Knocks where he tells us, once more, how he was left 'high and dry' by colleagues, there's Don't Go To Nightclubs Anymore. Here he seems to be revealing his renouncement of the bottle; telling us that he doesn't hang around with his friends 'Mose' (Allison, one presumes) and 'Mr Clive' (Georgie Fame?) and that he doesn't consider himself a 'legend in my own mind'. Yes, this seems to be a sober, happier ,healthier Van than we've seen in a long while.
From this point on it's all terrain that'll make the seasoned Van-watcher happy, and will welcome in anybody who wonders why such a legendary sourpusss maintains such a standing. End Of The Land and Song Of Home almost go so far as to resurrect the spirit of the country-inflected folk/soul of Van's golden period. In fact throughout Morrison references his older work; singing of wavelengths, harbour lights, foghorns and all the things that gave his muse the special bucolic, mystical vibe that he made all his own. The closing Behind The Ritual delivers the requisite spiritual soul-searching, though when he reaches the point of wordless expression and starts going "blah, blah, blah" it's not quite Listen To the Lion. The supporting cast acquit themselves admirably as well. Of special note is the steel guitar of Cindy Cashdollar (of Asleep At The Wheel). The only downside is that the backing vocals are a trifle over-egged at times.
But on the whole this is a lovely welcome back to a man who's been increasingly offhand in his output of late. It may look simple, but only a master like Van could pull this off.