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Van Morrison

What's Wrong With This Picture? (Blue Note)

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One of Van Morrison's best albums in years, this is a fitting debut for the legendary crooner on a storied jazz label, as well as a crossover coup effectively targeting the baby-boomer market.

Picture is generous, eclectic, and funky. Morrison doesn't sing rock and roll, he says in the sultry "Goldfish Bowl"; his art, rather, is "folk with a beat," and he's backed by a gang of terrific British players, including clarinetist Acker Bilk and guitarist Mick Green. Morrison's voice is aging extraordinarily well, giving his reading of "Saint James Infirmary" orchestral power and making his fierce rockabilly take on Lightnin' Hopkins' "Stop Drinking" unexpectedly striking.

At first, this album's 13 tunes seem to dwell in the gap between authenticity and performance, which Morrison has tried to figure out and bridge since his days with Them. But as one listens, the subtext becomes clear: What's Wrong With This Picture? is a meditation on the necessity to persevere, to express oneself no matter the genre, and to be true.

Morrison seems to have rediscovered his muse in late middle age, and he's never sounded more committed, authoritative, and funky.

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