It’s been only a year since Van Morrison’s last album Keep Me Singing was released, yet in that time he’s managed to embark on a world tour and record another Roll With The Punches.
That makes it three albums in three years, interspersed with three world tours. Clearly he still has an enigmatic capacity for graft, honed through years of working the club scene in the US and Europe, a seemingly inexhaustible desire to write, produce and perform. This prolific work-rate is all too uncommon in the age of streaming, as YouTube and Spotify have replaced the relentless gigging faced by many up-and-coming artists pre-Internet. Added to the fact that Van is 72, and you start to wonder how he does it.
Roll With The Punches does seem to express a certain weariness. Van’s clearly still enjoying himself, and has more to say, but there is a journeyed quality to his latest album which makes you wonder just how long he can keep it up. It’s a throwback blues album, with most songs adhering to a traditional 12-bar blues structure, brimming with effervescent blues harmonicas and thrumming double bass.
At its best, Roll With The Punches transports you back to the heyday of American blues. ‘Goin’ To Chicago’ aches with the languid pace of hot, humid summer nights, while ‘Automobile Blues’ crackles with sepia-tinged nostalgia, the piano tinkling away underneath Van’s coarse voice. There is a distinct lack of energy to the album: most songs have the same slow dogged tempo, creating a wandering, wistful atmosphere. It’s perfect for a long car journey.
Yet, while technically very good, Roll With The Punches feels like an homage and nothing more. The songs ‘Ordinary People’ and ‘Roll With The Punches’, from which the album takes its name, are so derivative that they fade into the background.
Van’s voice and lyrical ability are never once called into question, but at times it feels as if it’s his originality that’s lacking. It’s an album that reminds you to go and listen to the blues classics of the ’50s and ’60s: evocative but insubstantial.
IMAGE: Jarle Vines