Keep It Simple

What was Van Morrison referring to when he chose the title for his new release Keep It Simple? It certainly wasn’t stripped down arrangements; mind you Keep It Simple is filled with beautifully conceived instrumentation and pristine production. What you won’t find is overwrought string arrangements and blaring horn sections. These have been replaced by soulful organ accompaniments, smooth Ray Charles inspired backing vocals and expert playering ranging from the traditional bass, guitars and drums to fiddle, steel guitar and the occasional sax interludes.

Maybe the title is an acknowledgement of Morrison’s combined roles of music composer, lyricist and producer, all of which he handles adeptly. All 11 tracks on this album are written by the master and, in case we may have forgotten, Morrison is a damned good producer who instinctively knows how to reach into the heart of each of his songs. On recent albums Morrison’s vocals have often diverged into idiosyncratic scatting that nearly becomes self-parody. Here he’s eschewed that practice and the result is an impressive, nuanced and passionate performance that underscores the message of his thoughtful lyrics.

In a recent interview Morrison suggested that the title track is a kind of prayer for what we’ve lost as the world has grown more complex and less certain. On a more personal level Keep It Simple reflects the changes that have occurred in the life of this legendary star and to those who are lucky enough to have reached the age of no-longer-young. “Don’t Go To Nightclubs Anymore” will ring true enough to anyone who no longer feels the need to hang out with the old gang, or who’s taken in the hard lessons of alcohol and has stamped-out that last cigarette butt. “Behind the Ritual,” the albums last track, repeats that theme in its slow and mesmerizing fashion.

Morrison’s trademark sound is inspired by the soul and blues traditions that have pushed his pop/rock success to levels few artists can match. The opening track “How Can A Poor Boy?” marries blues and country in a parable about the fine line between faith and a good con-artist and could have taken it’s inspiration from Ray Charles’ classic Country & Western escapades. “School of Hard Knocks” kicks off with Garcia inspired guitar work and documents Morrison’s crazy early music years. “That’s Entrainment,” the album’s first single, celebrates the magic that occurs when the singer is in sync with his song, and also works as a metaphor for the joys in his life. There’s a better than decent chance Van’s audience will find entrainment while listening to his latest offering.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)