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Arts & Culture

Van Morrison And Joey DeFrancesco Make A Lethal Addition To An Old Canon

It's the wonder of encore career wonders: On Y<em>ou're Driving Me Crazy</em>, Van Morrison sounds sharp as ever working with Joey DeFrancesco's hard-swinging group.
It's the wonder of encore career wonders: On Y<em>ou're Driving Me Crazy</em>, Van Morrison sounds sharp as ever working with Joey DeFrancesco's hard-swinging group.

Van Morrison was 22 years old, flat broke and running out of options when he and a skeleton crew of jazz musicians recorded what became his most heralded album, released 50 years ago. The Irish singer and songwriter said the title of that record, Astral Weeks, described his writing process. The songs were "channeled works" — fever dreams, rich in poetry and mysticism.

They're also timeless. Now 72, Morrison tears through "The Way Young Lovers Do" on his newest album, You're Driving Me Crazy —assisted by star organist Joey DeFrancesco and his group.

Van Morrison has always been able to reach out and grab listeners with his wily, snarling voice. Long ago, he soaked up the timing of the great soul singers, like Ray Charles and Solomon Burke. More recently, he's been going to school on jazz vocalists, which has opened him up. It's the wonder of encore career wonders: Morrison actually sounds lethal working with DeFrancesco's hard-swinging group.

Since 2000, Morrison has released 15 records, including several themed collections of country and blues classics and a live version of Astral Weeksrecorded at the Hollywood Bowl. They're all competent and intermittently rousing, but none are as feisty from start to finish as this new album.

Credit for some of that energy goes to DeFrancesco, the veteran who's devoted his career to extending the organ-jazz tradition. His high-wattage grooves clearly challenge Morrison, even on the straightforward blues of "Goldfish Bowl."

Listening to this set, you get the impression that Van Morrison doesn't care too much about preserving his legacy: His focus is on the present. While his contemporaries are doing paint-by-numbers greatest hits tours, he's out there ad-libbing, taking on really old songs in ways that make them sound new again.

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