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Van Morrison

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In choosing the title of his 2003 debut recording for the jazz-oriented Blue Note Records, blue-eyed soul master and Irish rock poet Van Morrison baits us with What’s Wrong With This Picture? Judging from his legacy as an innovator, songwriter (“Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Moodance”) and fusionist of R&B, jazz, blues and Celtic folk, not much at all. While accumulating a spiritually transcendant body of work over close to four decades, his commercial fortunes have simmered and cooled, but his legacy and its cult following endures.

Morrison is most revered for a hit streak in the late '60s and early '70s, which included a string of now classic albums – Astral Weeks, Moondance, His Band and the Street Choir, Tupelo Honey and St. Dominic's Preview. Born in Belfast in 1945, he grew up listening to his father's American blues and jazz records and early on became enamored of such artists as Lightnin' Hopkins, Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, Mahalia Jackson and John Lee Hooker.

As a teenager, he played guitar, sax and harmonica with local showbands and skiffle and rock 'n' roll groups. In 1964 he formed his own R&B band, Them, which had a hit with "Gloria" – a Morrison original that was covered by a wide variety of artists (R.E.M., Patti Smith, The Doors) and remains a popular reissue. In 1967, he released his first album as a solo artist, Blowin' Your Mind, which established his complex artistry with the pop hit "Brown-Eyed Girl" and the haunting "T.B. Sheets."

Following 1972's St. Dominic's Preview, Morrison's recording highlights include Veedon Fleece, Wavelength and Into the Music from the late '70s and, from the '80s, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, No Guru, No Method, No Teacher and Poetic Champions Compose, albums that explored his spiritual vision. Many years into his career, he produced an incredibly high standard of work, and his post-heyday albums were events, not mere releases. 1988’s Irish Heartbeat, a festive collaboration with traditional act the Chieftains, offered a joyous but less intensive perspective. Although the title track and "Celtic Ray" were exhumed from Morrison's own catalogue, its highlights included moving renditions of "She Moved Through The Fair" and "Carrickfergus".

By this time Morrison was resettled in London and had invited R&B vocalist/organist Georgie Fame to join his touring revue. Avalon Sunset enhanced the singer's commercial ascendancy when "Whenever God Shines His Light", a duet with Cliff Richard, became a UK Top 20 single in July 1989, Morrison's first since Them's halcyon days. In the 1990s, he collaborated with musical heroes John Lee Hooker (1993's Too Long in Exile and 1998's Don't Look Back), Mose Allison (Tell Me Something, 1996), Georgie Fame (How Long Has This Been Going On, 1996) and skiffle master Lonnie Donegan and trad jazz trumpeter,Chris Barber (The Skiffle Sessions: Live in Belfast, 2000). In 1991, Morrison composed several songs for Tom Jones, one of which, "Carrying A Torch", was remade for Hymns To The Silence.

Morrison guested on albums by B.B. King and Lonnie Donegan before releasing his first album, Back On Top, for the Virgin Records subsidiary PointBlank in 1999. The following year he teamed up with Linda Gail Lewis on You Win Again. He resigned to Polydor and released Down The Road in May 2002.

© 2004