Roll With The Punches (Caroline)
Rather than wait out a decade and then call Joe Henry or Jeff Tweedy to produce the rootsy comeback, Van Morrison does it himself now. Roll With The Punches - five originals and some favourite blues and soul - is an unfussy, old-without-sounding-tired collection that could have been phoned in and still sounded ok but works at a better than average level.
If that sounds equivocal it’s not because of the songs, including works by Bo Didley, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Doc Pomus.
Didley’s I Can Tell - which could have been done by Them, Morrison’s route out of Northern Ireland in the mid ‘60s – and Tharpe’s How Far From God both pack some solid swing, and Morrison’s Too Much Trouble adds some Nat King Cole jazz (and a direct lyrical throw to Cole’s Straighten Up And Fly Right) to that swing.
Even Goin’ To Chicago, by Count Basie and Jimmy Rushing, the most generic song here, has its own little turns of phrase to enjoy.
Nor is it the guests, who include the likes of Jeff Beck, John Paul Jones and Chris Farlowe, The slightly cosmic, classic Van style of Transformation is lifted by Farlowe on just-rough-enough vocals and Beck on fluid guitar, and there’s classiness in all corners of the album right down to the choir punctuations before another Beck solo in Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home To Me.
If there is some hesitation it could be put down to the comfortable nature of a record where Morrison’s Fame, for example, is a nice walk in the park when a punchier delivery seems called for to back its sharper lyrical tone.
While never being less than enjoyable, Roll With The Punches does cry out for some of the spiritual/joyful reawakening – what you might call pep, or maybe pleasure of digging deep into their musical bones - which marked the “returns” of veterans such as Solomon Burke and Mavis Staples.
But then, Van’s never gone away has he?