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Van MorrisonVan Morrison
Album: Roll With The Punches
Label: Exile/Caroline International
Tracks: 15

Slick, defiantly polite and oozing class from every pore, Van's 37th studio album is just about everything we've come to expect from the old curmudgeon. That's not a criticism, simply an acknowledgement that whatever he does he does with an easy style and stacks of class.

Across 15 tracks of beautifully arranged, expertly executed lounge bar rhythm and blues we are rarely allowed to completely relax because, for all that the title track is a perfunctory blues original that Van has been belching for a decade or more, there are moments of transcendental magic such as the extraordinary vocal sound he builds up to on a brilliantly inventive version of Sam Cooke's Bring It On Home To Me.

His takes on Sister Rosetta Tharpe's How Far From God and Lightnin' Hopkins' Automobile Blues perfectly capture the tension between the sacred and the secular, the pious and the profane. Then as he craftily segues Stormy Monday (a duet with Chris Farlowe) and Doc Pomus' Lonely Avenue and hooks up with Georgie Fame for a nimble reading of Basie's Goin' To Chicago we're wishing he could take it to the next level, but instead we're let down by the celebrity whine of Ordinary People.

Thank heaven then for Transformation. As unambiguous a slice of prime Van Morrison as any he had dished up for years it's a sensitive soul-pop ballad that somehow channels Curtis Mayfield, Bob Dylan and his own back pages as it contemplates a mystical awakening, creating a sumptuous reverie from which we're jolted halfway through by Jeff Beck's stunning guitar stab.

Worth the price of admission in itself.

Nick Churchill