Let’s face it, duets albums have a bad reputation, and often gather dust after a couple of rotations. But perhaps this is one that bucks the trend.
Kicking off with a sprightly Some Piece of Mind, the late Bobby Womack shows why he and Van Morrison were always going to be a good fit together. This must have been recorded close to Bobby’s death, and indeed the two soul greats had been scheduled to tour together last year so it’s nice that this performance got recorded for posterity.
And the album is full of this kind of thing – soul, rock and blues gems from Van’s back catalogue sung with excellent guests including Mavis Staples, PJ Prob, and old colleagues such as Georgie Fame.
As we know, Van does things his way, and with some fantastic new arrangements this is a much better piece of work than some of the bland duets albums we’ve seen from other famous older artists.
Actually it would have been very interesting even without the guests, as the band is on fire, Van’s voice is in superb nick, and a lot of music fans find it fascinating to hear different studio versions of their favourite songs, as well as the versions we get to hear in concert. And let’s not forget the album’s sub-title is ‘Re-working the Catalogue’.
And with a back catalogue as strong as Van’s, it’s always a joy to come across a half forgotten gem, the soaring ballad Carrying A Torch with Clare Teal being a case in point. It is performed very well here, as are many of the other lesser known songs. There are hits too, for example Michael Buble acquits himself quite well on the ever-rocking Real Real Gone.
Not everything works though. There is nothing disastrous, just some performances that don’t quite gel, letting the album lull a little in the middle, such as during a somewhat flat Streets of Arklow with Mick Hucknall.
But, to finish this review, let’s mention two of the best. One of Van’s greatest songs of spirit, 1997’s Rough God Goes Riding is done with real vigour here with his daughter Shana, and Mark Knopfler comes in to his own on a lovely Irish Heartbeat, where he more than matches Van in the vocal department and provides some nice guitar while he’s at it.
So, while it may not prove to be the best Irish album of the year, it will certainly be one of the most enjoyable, and perhaps we will see one or two of these guests at Van’s show in the 3Arena later this year. The man is in good current concert form too apparently, so there is certainly a lot to savour for fans of Van Morrison in 2015.