Friday, November 16, 2018

Van Morrison 35: Magic Time

We’ve learned to take a deep breath before attempting to analyze another Van Morrison album. So it’s very refreshing when we stumble on one as pleasant as Magic Time. Maybe it was the label change—this time to Geffen—or the fact that the songs were leftovers from the two albums prior. What wasn’t good enough the first time hangs together well here.
The album starts strong with “Stranded”, a gentle blend of jazzy blues and doo-wop, with a slow lazy roll like floating on the sea. “Celtic New Year” is just as lovely and nearly as slow without dragging, complete with a cameo by Paddy Moloney near the end. “Keep Mediocrity At Bay” would be good advice if it weren’t so close to “Sweet Home Chicago”, and “Evening Train” doesn’t break any lyrical ground but it’s still a toe-tapper. He gets a couple of covers out of the way early on—Frank Sinatra’s “This Love Of Mine” and “I’m Confessin’”, given a slight Louis Prima scat over the loping beat. That clears the deck for “Just Like Greta” (as in Garbo, who just wanted to be alone), another slowish treat that builds nicely with a hint of the Caledonia Soul Orchestra in the strings.
“Gypsy In My Soul” doesn’t hearken back to “Gypsy” so much as evoke thoughts of “Spooky” and “Smooth Operator”, and he felt the need to alter Fats Waller’s “Black And Blue” into “Lonely And Blue”. Worth much more scrutiny is “The Lion This Time”, which suggests a connection to “Listen To The Lion” despite its lilting nursery rhyme quality. The title track isn’t much until the harmonica solo, but at least he waited until nearly the end to complain about all the injustice he’s endured in “They Sold Me Out”, over chords that sounds too much like “People Get Ready” and other songs we can’t identify. Finally, “Carry On Regardless” isn’t much more than a litany of film titles from the Carry On film franchise. Stick through the full six minutes to hear him yodel and—amazingly—laugh.
Take a few songs off and get it closer to 45 minutes, and Magic Time is one of Van’s better albums from the post-Avalon Sunset phase of his career. It still doesn’t rate higher than it is, but of the previous ten with the same rating, it’s the one to pick.

Van Morrison Magic Time (2005)—3

1 comment:

  1. Maybe Van never makes a bad record, but this, as so many others, comes from his shadow-land, the place where you wander through his work without feeling much, and without seeing him clearly, which is how, I suspect, he made them. If you're in the mood for Van, you can either go for this, and let your attention wander, or you can go to the source with him. The source is closed to him now, and all he has are the memories. All his albums from a certain point (debatable) are memories of Van Morrison albums, and how great they are. They may be pleasant and professional, but he's not hearing the lion any more, and neither are we.