The recently knighted, Sir George Ivan Morrison, otherwise known as Van Morrison, keeps swinging with Versatile, a collection of old school jazz/big band standards.
The rough god disregards age as he gets grooving with some twilight sounds from eternal luminaries like Cole Porter and George and Ira Gershwin, to name but a few. And then there are his own songs.
Versatile is an off-putting title for the album because the record showcases Morrison’s long distance vocal endurance and Dorian Gray-like unchangeability. He sounds as potent as he did in 1972 or 1969 or 1966.
Morrison, a multi-instrumentalist as well as vocal supremo, wrote several songs here that hang with the big names easily. The intro track on the recording, Broken Record, is one of the higher energy numbers with a riff on the repeated vocal hook.
Morrison has fire to spare and he revels in the material, taking a veteran’s ease with arrangements. His arrangement of Skye Boat Song renders the track unrecognizable with his tasteful saxophone riffing taking the lead. Old warhorses like I Get A Kick Out of You are lively and the wistful classic Unchained Melody isn’t slavishly reproduced.
Morrison takes liberties aplenty, using the song as a theme, instead of a story. Like another venerable vocalist, Bob Dylan, he’s become a musicologist in his old age or at least a traditionalist. Both singers revel in the smooth dejection of the themes they work out, recognizing the ongoing appeal.
Morrison favours Sinatra-sounding swing in the grooves in his own songs and the cover material and the record is thick with upbeat atmosphere because of it.