"Sartre said hell is other people/I believe that most of them are," Van Morrison sings in "Goin' Down to Monte Carlo," one of the 10 tracks on this vividly irritated, vocally compelling record. Later in the song, he rails against "phony pseudo-jazz" and frets that "After everything I've worked for/They're going to throw everything away." Morrison doesn't say who "they" are, but his fear is clear. At 67, on his 35th studio album, Morrison feels like an endangered species, surrounded by jive and crooks, with nothing to fall back on but his sinuous growl – like gravel rolling through velvet – and scatting hallelujahs. "It's not done on a whim," Morrison argues in the title track. "Passion's everything/When you were born to sing."
Greed and economic calamity are running themes in Morrison's writing here. God is dead and wealth a small comfort in "If in Money We Trust." "No social ladder to climb around here," Morrison snarls in "End of the Rainbow." The greater, constant lift is in the album's earthy-R&B roll – the slow-drag groove in "Born to Sing" suggests Ray Charles leading the band at New Orleans' Preservation Hall – and the disarming, one-of-a-kind warmth of Morrison's gift. He is one of pop's great prickly contradictions: a public treasure obsessed with pure, private solace. But anyone born to sing was also born to share. Despite all of his discomfort and suspicion, Morrison isn't done giving.
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