I am convinced that Van Morrison is as happy about his vocation as he has been since he was playing The Maritime Bar in Belfast in the early 60s.
My thoughts on Van Morrison’s complicated relationship with the public in general and the press in particular is that a young Morrison simply wanted to play his music. Most unfortunately for Van his musical vocation coincided with an explosion of pop music and his particular vocational genius got caught up in an industry that was not at all in keeping with his shy personality.
To be as deeply introverted, as Van Morrison seems to be, and then get caught up in the pop circus is not a match made in heaven. Rather than take swipes at Van Morrison’s contrariness we should be grateful that he didn’t just give it all up and walk away as he threatened to after Veedon Fleece in 1974.
Forty five year after that little flirt with retirement, in the mid 70s, Morrison is now in his mid 70s and everything about his relationship with pop music is very different indeed. No longer does he have to fear his photograph on the front cover of music magazines or the pressure of hit singles. Yes, the odd journalist still tries to shoehorn inside his introverted mystery but even they are now few and far between.
As a result, Morrison is having the musical time of his life. He now plays smaller intimate venues like those he imagined he would be playing when he started out. As far as albums are concerned he can do what he wants, creating as much or as little as his own soul directs.
Hence, Three Chords and The Truth is his sixth record in four years. The last four records have seen Morrison liberally mixing jazz and blues covers, along with his own originals or re-workings of his classics. It all seemed free and easy, enjoyable for him and his fans. I wouldn’t say I loved every song but I am glad of them.
Three Chords and The Truth is not part of that outpouring. It is almost a bookend, the other being the first of the recent six records, Keep Me Singing.
Like Keep Me Singing most of these songs are original Morrison songs but more than that there is a different intention to the collection. This is very much a Van Morrison record in the vein of his very best. Indeed, you can hear echoes of most every era of Morrison’s eclectic career.
There is the wonder on the Don Black co-write If We Wait For Mountains. The opening song March Winds In February reminds me of Hard Nose The Highway. Dark Night Of The Soul could be a title from anything between Beautiful Vision and The Healing Game. I can hear Them play Early Days. Fame Will Eat The Soul is that recurring them on his albums since the late 80s. Days Gone By is a wonderful closer, as he re-writes Auld Lang Syne and infuses it with Van transcendence.
There are a plethora of different shades of the Van Morrison muse are stretched right across this tracklist. The return of Jay Berliner to the session players adds sublime guitar playing throughout.
Nobody In Charge is not my favourite song on the record but it is the most politically intriguing. Is this as political as Van has ever been:
Politicians that waffle endlessly
People just don’t want to see
Getting’ paid too much for screwin’ up
don’t you think everyone’s had enough?
There’s nobody in charge
At that we know, that we know about
There’s nobody in charge
Nobody seems to have any clout
And speculation across the nation
Media implantation rules the day
Brainwash is easy, if everybody’s lazy
Everything always looks so grey
This could be about the fact Northern Ireland’s Local Assembly has not met at Stormont in almost three years. It could also be about the daily newscasts from outside a Brexit divided Westminster. Some of my American friends would say that it has wider connotations! Surely, that Morrison feels at liberty to surmise on such issues is a sign of his new sense of freedom.
Don’t miss Van’s humour either.. When he sings “Free State” in You Don’t Understand it has local connotations in his Northern Irish homeland. The Free State is what my Granny and Van’s parent’s generation called the Republic Of Ireland.
He articulates it here with the wry Van humour that he used at Self Aid in Dublin in 1986 when he introduced new songs from No Guru, No Method, No Teacher by saying that it would be out “on the Twelfth of July!” Or in that little snippet of The Sash on I’ll Tell Me Ma on his collaborative album with The Chieftains, Irish Heartbeat.
Three Chords and The Truth is not the most iconic album of Van Morrison’s career or the one with the most hit singles. To compare it in such ways is to miss not only what Van Morrison is now doing and also what he always wished he had been doing. It is another wonderful record of inspirational music by a genius of the genre. It is a most satisfying listen.