Van Morrison, known for his unconventional style, is revisiting his past as he reaches the later years of his career. His latest album, Accentuate the Positive, features songs from his early days playing in bars in Belfast, a journey that began 60 years ago. After planning to return to his rock’n’roll and R&B roots for over two decades, Morrison finally found the time during the Covid pandemic to focus on this project. Interestingly, last year he released an album filled with frustration and doubt towards the pandemic titled What’s It Gonna Take?
Morrison will be debuting his new album tonight, taking the stage front and center with his seven-piece band. He is donning his signature Panama hat and sunglasses, making a strong first impression. Despite being 78 years old, his voice remains powerful and commanding. If you close your eyes, it’s almost as if he’s the same blues singer who belted out “Gloria” with Them in 1964. His rendition of the classic country song “You Are My Sunshine” showcases his skill as a skilled and nuanced interpreter of music. He also delivers a poignant performance of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” However, his rough growl does not quite match up to the smooth harmonies of the Everly Brothers in their hit “When Will I Be Loved.”
Similarly, the reinterpretations of early rock and roll songs lack the same intensity and raw emotion as the original versions. Morrison fully immerses himself in Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over” and Bill Haley’s “Two Hound Dogs,” but his band’s overly calculated arrangements diminish the songs’ bluesy feel. While Morrison delivers a spot-on performance in “Lucille,” he wisely avoids trying to match Little Richard’s theatrical vocals. Both Chuck Berry’s “Bye Bye Johnny” and Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill” require a playful energy to be properly performed, but the unchanging and detached Morrison never lets go of his cool demeanor.
A leisurely stroll through Shake, Rattle and Roll is clever in its balance of wildness. It’s a trip down memory lane without any shame, harmless but a bit too comfortable. The evening ends early at 9:30pm and everyone heads home for a warm cup of cocoa.