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Van Morrison | The Prophet Speaks

Van the Man's recent roll continues with his fourth winner in less than 18 months.

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With Van Morrison, you take what you get. And you can like it or lump it; he doesn’t give a good goddamn either way. That disregard (if not outright disdain) for his audience can really frost your tips when the irritatingly inconsistent and irascible Irishman is phoning it in or veering off on one of his self-indulgent tangents (as he’s done countless times over the course of his six-decade career). But all is instantly forgiven when he’s focused and firing on all cylinders — as he’s been for the past few years, thankfully. At the tender age of 73 — a time when most artists are wallowing in the past, resting on laurels or just going through the motions — Van the Man is not only working like a demon: He is absolutely, positively, undeniably crushing it. The Prophet Speaks, his magnificent new disc, is the 40th studio album in his illustrious catalogue. More importantly, it is his fourth album in less than 18 months. So either he’s more energetic and inspired than he’s been in ages or he’s finally found a deep-pocketed sucker who’s willing to pay him by the song. Either way, more power to him. Because The Prophet Speaks, much like recent predecessors Roll With the Punches, Versatile and You’re Driving Me Crazy, is a nostalgic slice of old-school heaven. In fact, it’s basically a sequel to the You’re Driving me Crazy: It continues that disc’s collaboration with trumpeter and organist Joey DeFranesco and his band. It features jazz, jump blues and R&B revamps of classics like John Lee Hooker’s Dimples, Sam Cooke‘s Laughin’ and Clowin’, Solomon Burke’s Gotta Get You Off My Mind and Willie Dixon’s I Love the Life I Live, blended with Morrison originals cut from the same vintage cloth. And it is lovingly, loosely constructed from crisp fingerpoppin’ grooves, percolating Hammond B3 lines, burbling guitar licks and understated horn charts. They all flow effortlessly together into the perfect backdrop for the Belfast Cowboy’s soulfully gruff vocals and eternally hip nonchalance — though it must be said even the mercurial Morrison sounds like he’s actually having fun these days. And no wonder. These last few albums have been some of the most engaging work of his latter-day career. It’s impossible not to enjoy yourself — while it lasts. Because let’s face it: It’s only a matter of time until Morrison gets into one of his moods again. And then all bets are off.