August 2005

Van Morrison - Magic Time
Geffen Records -- B0004662-02
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

At age 59, with more than 30 recordings behind him, Van Morrison isn’t throwing any curveballs. Every year or so a new disc comes along, and each seems to fit comfortably within the pattern Morrison has established over the last 20 years or so -- relaxed but swinging, an easy mixture of jazz and blues with an occasional Celtic lilt thrown in for good measure. Morrison is a craftsman, but even devoted fans have to admit that some of his records feel perfunctory. What’s Wrong With This Picture?, his 2003 recording for Blue Note, must have raised the stakes for him. The songs were good and Van was paying attention again to the details, especially the horn arrangements.

Magic Time, his newest, will sound familiar to Morrison’s fans, and they’ll be pleased that he is again on firm ground. His warm alto-sax playing opens the disc, and guitarist Foggy Lyttle helps set the mood with his gentle-toned, understated playing, as he did on What’s Wrong With This Picture. Lyttle died soon after Magic Time was completed and it is dedicated to him. As usual with Morrison’s discs, the recording is clean and spacious.

Morrison returns to many of his usual concerns here -- the burden of celebrity, the need to set standards and meet them, and the horrors of the music business. Rather than just hurl invective at those things, as he has in the past, Morrison points to the satisfactions of his work: "Carry on regardless, just to satisfy your soul." A very solid band helps him stay at the top of his game.