Van Morrison and Joey DeFrancesco ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’ LP/CD/DIG (Sony) 5/5

Van Morrison is in a rich vein of form at present, recording regularly and focusing on blues, folk and country in previous albums. This rates alongside his best of recent years and is firmly in the soul-jazz bag, which is ideally suited to the multi-instrumental talents of both Van Morrison and Joey DeFrancesco, Van Morrison expertly walking the tightrope of rhythm and blues meets jazz. Throughout his career, Van Morrison has incorporated jazz elements, whether that be deploying all-time great jazz musicians as on, ‘Astral Weeks’, or composing songs that have subsequently become jazz standards, such as, ‘Moondance’. What comes across here is the sheer joy of recording in this context, and an engineer from the old school of recording has been enlisted to give the music that has an infinitely more dynamic live feel. That they have succeeded all round in this endeavour is beyond dispute, and the listener comes out the undoubted winner. The album is a combination of older Van Morrison songs that have been revisited and some of his personal favourite standards. Opening up the album is a laid back and smoky atmospheric flavour to ‘Miss Otis Regrets’, with DeFrancecsco here doubling up on trumpet. A real favourite to these ears is the waltz-like groove of ‘The Way Young Lovers Do’ with Hammond, guitar and the soprano saxophone of Troy Roberts operating wonderfully in tandem. The music harks back to the classic soul-jazz recordings on Blue Note and Prestige. Blues shouters such as the late and great Big Joe Turner were a seminal influence on the young Van and on the mid-tempo soul-blues groove of, ‘The Way Young Lovers Do’, he gives something back in the most personalised way possible to that singing tradition, with some deft guitar licks from Dan Wilson. Of note are the excellent background vocals from daughter, Shana Morrison. The latter distinguished herself further on ‘Hold It Right There’, and it is clear to all and sundry that Van Morrison is having a ball. Meanwhile, Van’s love of standards is illustrated on, ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, and the blues is not forgotten with, ‘Gold Fish Bowl’. A prime candidate for the album’s most immediate and compelling track, ‘Close Enough For Jazz’, features the tightest of rhythm sections and swings from start to finish. In a more relaxed swing, ‘The Things I Used To’ impresses also. In summary, a terrific album and one that lingers long in the mind and soul.

Tim Stenhouse