Van Morrison
"Magic Time Press Launch"
Shaw Theatre
London, UK
April 14, 2005

Source: Unknown audience recording. A Vantrades Release -

CD 1:
01. Cute (instrumental)
02. Keep Mediocrity At Bay
03. Stranded
04. Gypsy In My Soul
05. Magic Time
06. Carry On Regardless
07. Lonely And Blue
08. Moondance
09. They Sold Me Out
10. Just Like Greta
11. This Love Of Mine
12. I�m Confessin�
13. Evening Train
14. The Lion This Time
15. Celtic New Year
16. That�s Life
17. Precious Time [scat ending]

Total time = 79:25

Van Morrison
Ned Edwards
David Hayes
Matt Holland
Jeff Leach
Bobby Ruggiero
Martin Winning

Review: Magic Time - the new Van Morrison album - showcased in London last night. Magic Time, Van Morrison's new album, set for release in mid-May, is not entirely magical, but it's his most likeable release for some years. Last night's London press launch, in a tiny, steeply raked theatre, revealed a diverse collection of songs which made a bigger impact than any of Morrison's solo studio albums since The Healing Game. It includes ballads, rockabilly, blues, easy/lounge, along with mid-tempo singer-songwriter material, and even some Latin tinges. The songs are better than you'd dare expect from reading the lyrics on the new Morrison web site. The titles fall into four groups, three of which might induce groans among those Morrison fans disappointed by recent albums: (1) More whines: Stranded; Keep Mediocrity At Bay; They Sold Me Out; Carry On Regardless. Early ruminations on this theme, notably the masterpiece Why Must I Always Explain, covered it perfectly; it now deserves a decent burial; (2) Hints of re-runs of old Van The Man themes: Celtic New Year; Evening Train; Gypsy In My Soul; The Lion This Time; (3) "Jazz standards" (or, more accurately, pre-rock pop covers): This Love of Mine; I'm Confessin'; Lonely And Blue; and (4) And two intriguing titles which carry no baggage at all: Magic Time; and Just Like Greta. If Magic Time's song titles don't exactly set the pulse racing, the lyrics - on paper - are even less compelling. They contain rather too many cliches and self-referential quotes. On paper, nothing on Magic Time looks as accomplished as most of Morrison's massively impressive songbook. But last night's performance of Magic Time confounded any low expectations induced by studying the lyrics too minutely. The set was stuffed with engaging arrangements. Some world-class singing (Morrison's voice is in great shape) and lively musicianship contributed to an impressively strong gig, with not a few highlights. Lesson: you can't judge a song by its lyrics. And the material passes the acid test for new Morrison work: it will slip seamlessly into future gigs, alongside classics from the songbook. Even on first hearing, you could readily identify those songs likely to feature in live shows for a long, long time: Celtic New Year, Stranded, They Sold Me Out, and The Lion This Time. Any musical downside? Well, yes: while the arrangements are varied in tempo and style, from lush ballad to Latin beat to classic mid-tempo Morrison, they tend to occupy a limited musical range: this septet seems becalmed in easy listening Showband latitudes. The mid-set breather from the new album, a lovely Moondance, with a piquant muted trumpet solo by MD Matt Holland, illustrated the challenge facing a creative artist of Morrison's pedigree. If you've repeatedly stunned the world with magic tunes on albums like Moondance, Astral Weeks, and a dozen other masterpieces, how on earth do you go on delivering encores? Van Morrison has written a higher proportion of successful albums than any other musician of the rock generation. But, since Hymns To The Silence, his best songs have been released in the midst of weaker material. So, while it's easy to compile a best-of C90 cassette/80 min CDR from the post-HTTS solo albums - great songs, which compare with any from Morrison's 40 year output - you'd be hard-pressed to compile a follow-up selection. Magic Time adds several more tracks worth including in a career overview - more tracks than any of the previous three solo outings. On that basis, it will be greeted warmly by most Morrison fans. Last night's Shaw Theatre gig reminded the 500 in attendance that Morrison is still an outstanding live performer. His other-worldly exit coda to Precious Time, which seemed to overlay scatting in Irish jig time on to the song's ska beat, while simultaneously exhibiting his virtuoso command of dynamics, gave a glimpse of a consummate musician at the top of his game (Gerry Smith).

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