* * * 1/2 VAN MORRISON. "Poetic Champions Compose." Mercury. "I've been all around the world / Marching to the beat of a different drum / But just lately I have realized / The best is yet to come," Morrison sings in the country-ish "Someone Like You," providing the key to the album's mood.
Apparently this is one seeker who has found what he's been looking for, and it's that sense of domestic contentment that sets this album apart from Morrison's moodier (though excellent) recordings thus far this decade. This is the most relaxed and comfortable Morrison has sounded since 1979's "Into the Music," if not since 1971's "Tupelo Honey."
That's not to say that this is any radical departure. Morrison still looks at the world through mystic eyes, echoing (as the title suggests) such poetic champions as Yeats and Donne in songs like "The Mystery" and "Queen of the Slipstream."
But the songs are more direct and compact. And while the music, too, contains all his trademarks (a small jazz/blues combo seasoned with occasional strings and woodwinds), there's a wider variety of styles than usual, ranging from three easygoing instrumentals to the joyous "Give Me My Rapture" and the bubbly pop/jazz "Did Ye Get Healed?"
Though this is not likely to turn the heads of those who have never been into Morrison, it's yet another top-flight effort from one of the true greats of contemporary music.