Friday, June 11, 2021

Van Morrison 41: Duets

The all-star duets album had its peak in the ‘90s, when the likes of Elton John and Frank Sinatra crossed genres and generations to expand their sales footprints. So it’s surprising when someone like Van Morrison makes such a clear commercial move, and that he did it this late in his career.
Both the cover and the title of Duets: Re-working The Catalogue make the intention clear, but this is not a grab for a renaissance a la Carlos Santana or Ray Charles. These are all takes on deep cuts from throughout his catalog, and all his own compositions. The lesser-known songs work better than the “hits”; “Real Real Gone” sounds exactly like the original, except that Michael Bublé enunciates half of it.
For the most part he sticks with likeminded veteran performers, such as Bobby Womack, Mavis Staples, and Natalie Cole, who’s known for possibly one duet too many. George Benson sings and plays welcome guitar on “Higher Than The World”, and “Whatever Happened to P.J. Proby?” features none other than the song’s subject. “Fire In The Belly” has some good repartee with Steve Winwood and Chris Farlowe does his best Ray Charles on “Born To Sing”. “Get On With The Show” sounds like Otis Day & The Knights, but he and Georgie Fame mix well per usual. You can skip the last track, wherein Van and Taj Mahal try to out-scat and stutter each other, but we actually get hear Van laugh at the end.
From the younger crowd, Joss Stone ably tackles “Wild Honey”, we’ve never heard of Clare Teal or Gregory Porter. Shana Morrison sounds better singing with her dad than solo on “Rough God Goes Riding”, but we’re rather partial to “Streets Of Arklow” with Mick Hucknall.
As duets albums go, Duets: Re-working The Catalogue could have been a lot worse, and maybe, just maybe, somebody dug through the back catalog to contrast and compare after hearing these. Maybe.

Van Morrison Duets: Re-working The Catalogue (2015)—3

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