Van Morrison – Three Chords & The Truth review
by Geoff Ford
While most rock stars in their 70s are content to release a new album or go on another ‘Greatest Hits Tour’ once in a blue moon, Van Morrison, who most likely was the inspiration for many of them, continues to produce albums at a furious rate. Three Chords & The Truth, just released on CD, vinyl and digital download, is his 41st solo album, his sixth in just four years, and, quite frankly, stands up there with his best!
To maintain his workaholic output, 74-year old Morrison has mixed a few new compositions in with blues standards on his most recent albums but Three Chords contains 14 original songs of the highest order, capturing the warmth and feel of the early classics by which every other Van Morrison album is judged: Astral Weeks, Moondance and Tupelo Honey.
Three Chords & The Truth finds Morrison in reflective mood with every track produced and written by Van Morrison, with the exception of If We Wait for Mountains which was co-written with Don Black.
The opening track March Winds In February has a beautiful warm feel, immediately evoking comparisons with the mellow songs on those early albums. Fame Will Eat The Soul is Morrison’s take on Hollywood and the entertainment business and features a duet with The Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley, pooling their collective experience. Their message to the ambitious is ‘Fame will eat your soul until your heart breaks,’ and, when you make the grade… ‘Can’t get control when every clown wants to take you down.’
Dark Night Of The Soul, a mid-paced bluesy number reflecting on life’s hard-learned lessons: ‘Sitting here but I didn’t plan it, Well the plans of mice and men have gone astray.’ Vocally, Morrison is still at the top of his game, the years have been kind to The Man and Dark Night gives him the vehicle to indulge in the vocal gymnastics that characterised many of his early songs.
You Don’t Understand is a slower, moody track in the classic blues mould, while In Search Of Grace looks back to a love lost in the 60s and one of several tracks to feature the legendary guitarist Jay Berliner who worked with Morrison on Astral Weeks.
Nobody In Charge is a pacey shuffle, a take on today’s politics and the tempo accelerates as Morrison remembers his rock and roll influences on Early Days. This lively rocker features some tasty boogie-woogie piano and lots of style cues from the fifties.
These tracks also featured on Van Morrison’s recent, and very brief, 4-date UK tour along with the title track. Three Chords & The Truth was a phrase used by the late songwriter Harlan Howard to define a great country song. Morrison adds ‘a shot of rhythm and blues’ to the country feel and then follows with a proper tongue-in-cheek country ditty Bags Under My Eyes, ‘When am I gonna get wise?’
When Van Morrison takes to the stage, it’s all about the music. No fanfares, no fantastic light show, no conversation between songs (and sometimes not even a gap between songs!). Morrison lets his music do the talking and it speaks volumes about his passion and dedication to his art.
The setlist covered Morrison’s entire career, from picking up his harmonica for a rocking Baby Please Don’t Go, his bluesy 1964 debut hit with Them through to his latest work. Across the evening he treats his audience to a delicious mix of rock, blues, folk and his soulful Celtic mysticism.
The classics come thick and fast: Days Like These, Blue Money, Little Village and Foreign Window as Morrison pretty much makes up the setlist on the spot, varying it from show to show. On one occasion he even changed his mind at the last moment as the band were about to strike up with one tune, he suddenly signalled them to switch to Magic Time.
The great man’s voice was in fine fettle throughout and belies his 74 years but the highlight of the evening came at the end of his main set. With David Hayes laying down his bass guitar for a double bass, Morrison delivered a measured and tender version of the exquisite Ballerina from the Astral Weeks album. As Morrison turned and left the stage the audience rose as one, a standing ovation for a great performance.
Of course, Morrison returned for the obligatory encore, a rousing rendition of another early Them classic, GLORIA. Again, Morrison just turned sharply and, with no acknowledgment of his audience, left the stage still singing. The band played on for another 10 minutes, each taking their turn in the spotlight and leaving the stage until only drummer Bob Ruggiero remained. Following his super drum solo, the band returned for one final flourish and the evening was over. Three Chords & The Truth is available now on Exile/Caroline International, catalogue number 0801663.