Van Morrison Pay the Devil

Van Morrison Pay the Devil
He is known as the Belfast Cowboy, but throughout his storied career Van Morrison has mainly drawn from his primary influences in R&B and jazz to create his trademark "Caledonia Soul Music.” His steady stream of releases over the past decade has showed flashes of old brilliance, but nothing that’s displayed much growth in his artistic vision. This is what makes Pay the Devil immediately significant, since it is Morrison’s first full-fledged country album, and in its mix of standards and originals there’s an obvious energy that comes with tackling a new genre. Of course, the unbound passion of Tupelo Honey and St. Dominic’s Preview is long gone in his delivery, instead replaced by a gruff wisdom that’s perfectly suited to "There Stands the Glass,” and "Things Have Gone to Pieces.” In other spots, like "Your Cheatin’ Heart,” the versions aren’t much beyond karaoke, and his own "Don’t You Make Me High” comes off like the ranting of a dirty old man. Still, he’s able to dig deep on the title track, which could be career summation, and also in his moving version of Rodney Crowell’s oft-covered "Till I Gain Control Again.” These are the moments, when Morrison is in touch with his elusive muse, that conjure up his past tormented glories. They may be few and far between these days, but when they occur, they are a glowing reminder of what a unique artist Morrison can still be. (Lost Highway)