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Van Morrison refuses to live in the past

Opera House, Boston, March 8, 2006

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Van Morrison apparently chooses not to rest on his laurels. At 60, he just released a very strong country album, "Pay the Devil," mixing covers and several originals.

And while some artists may be a bit gun shy about introducing generally unfamiliar material to fans, Morrison suffered no such thing before an enthusiastic sold-out audience the day after the disc's release. Morrison, appearing in a suit and hat and hidden behind his big glasses, demonstrated that with both old and new, he knows how to put out his material in fine form.

Now, that has not always been the case with the somewhat mercurical performer. He has been known to turn his back on a crowd and be a man of very few words, basically not exuding warmth to the faithful who paid the bucks to put him where he is today.

But that was not the case during his 100-minute show - no that he has become warm and fuzzy.

First off and most importantly, Morrison's voice was in great shape. It was on the new CD, and it certainly was in concert. He smartly doesn't overdo it, but he was certainly capable of infusing the songs with energy and emotion and also knew when to show restraint whether country or his trademark R&B, soulful songs.

It was simply a real pleasure to hear a performer who's been around for close to 40 years to not have lost his vocal abilities.

He didn't even just repeat what's on the new CD note for note. The lead-off song from the album, Webb Pierce's "There Stands The Glass," was done with more instrumentation, but a bit slower.

Morrison also had good turns on Hank Williams Sr.'s "My Bucket's Got a Hole In It" and his own "Playhouse," which fit quite well with the rest of the material.

Morrison easily went between styles, never making the concert feel disjointed, while always keeping it interesting.

He also had a strong outing on his chestnut, "Moondance," going for a jazzier feel, but retooling it to make it sound fresh and new, not necessarily only a chestnut.

Morrison was aided by a very large, but extremely capable 14-piece band with people coming and going from the stage depending on the song. On the country songs, Cindy Cashdollar on Dobro and pedal steel and Jason Roberts of Asleep at the Wheel on fiddle were stellar time and again. Cashdollar added a tremendous vibe to the songs.

In fact, one aspect for which Morrison also deserves credit is that he lets his band play. He doesn't rush the songs and end them too quickly - nor does he let them drag. Morrison, instead, gives space to his musicians, and the proof is that the songs tended to build over time.

This was a concert with little lag to it, and Morrison left the audience wanting more. Unfortunately, he didn't encore, but during his time on stage, he showed he is not content to live in his past.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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