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In the Morrison Family, the Daughter Also Rises

Pop music Van's Shana brings a crisp new CD and a solid handle on blues, country and soul to Newport Beach on Sunday.

February 13, 1999|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

About a year ago, Van Morrison told an aspiring singer-songwriter he liked her band's first do-it-yourself CD, noting that two songs in particular were "really good."

Having gotten this rare blessing from the austere, enigmatic and much-beloved eminence of soulful rock music, the up-and-comer:

A. Summoned all her friends to celebrate with champagne until dawn.

B. Chose the solitary exultation befitting an artiste and started scribbling in her diary.

C. Kind of forgot some key details of the incident.

The answer, C, becomes slightly comprehensible when you realize that, for Shana Morrison, he's not Van the Man, but her old man.

"He thought my voice was getting better and he liked the songs," she recalled of her father. "He mentioned two--'Those two are really good.' "

Which ones were they?

"I can't remember. It was about a year ago."

Maybe the famously introverted Van was mumbling, as he sometimes does on stage. Or maybe it's a comment on the inherent imperfections of parent-child communication. But fans of bluesy, adult-alternative style pop and rock are apt to find a favorite or two of their own on "Caledonia," the album Shana Morrison, 28, and her band will bring as a calling card to their Orange County debut Sunday afternoon at Muldoon's pub in Newport Beach.

Writing and performing with four seasoned players from the Marin County music scene, the younger Morrison arrives with a catchy, varied and crisply performed CD that builds on the promise developed over the past five years in her first professional gig: singing backups and duets in her father's band.

The album flits between melancholy, liquor-stoked lust, romantic longing and airy moments of fun--showing a command of blues, country and soul on songs that summon up the likes of the Wallflowers, Natalie Merchant, Sheryl Crow and Bonnie Raitt.

Where some have allowed themselves to be overshadowed by the influence they've drawn from Van Morrison's indelibly idiosyncratic singing style (exhibit A being the early Bruce Springsteen), his daughter confidently proceeds in her own voice, even while covering dad's glowing "Sweet Thing."

Shana (rhymes with Donna) grew up surrounded with musical influences. Her mother, Janet, is a singer and songwriter who hails from a musical family (Van dubbed her Janet Planet during their marriage, in which she was the romantic muse for his most widely cherished albums, including "Astral Weeks," "Moondance" and "Tupelo Honey"). They split while Shana was still a toddler; she has no memory of them together and spent her girlhood shuttling between their separate Marin County homes.

Music and Books Filled Weekends at Father's

Shana said weekends and holidays with her father revolved around music and books.

"Band members would come over, people would want to go over ideas. My dad's a huge record enthusiast, so there was tons of record playing, and he would buy me records."

Van didn't try to impose his taste, she said, but added he has almost no tolerance for music he doesn't like. "Sometimes you put on something and he runs to the stereo as fast as he can to turn it off because he can't stand it."

Shana said he has toned down his response--somewhat--for certain less keenly received recordings of her own.

"He's heard all the demos I've done. Some of 'em, you can tell his brow is a little furrowed and he storms out of the room [after the tape ends]," she said lightly. "It's a massive three minutes he's had to listen to the record."

Also important were her grandparents, George and Violet Morrison, who moved from Belfast to Marin County when Shana was 2, and stayed for the next 10 years.

"My grandmother taught me the first songs I ever learned--'Star of the County Down,' 'Danny Boy,' 'Tell My Ma' [and other Irish folk standards]. She would hold me on her knee and the whole afternoon just sing song after song."

Shana said that at 77, Violet, to whom "Caledonia" is dedicated, "is one of my best friends in the world" and still capable, when visiting from Belfast, of getting up with her band to belt out a good blues.

George Morrison, Shana said, was a withdrawn man who seldom spoke but loved collecting jazz and blues records; her grandparents ran Caledonia Records, a shop in Fairfax. Shana, whose middle name is also Caledonia--the mythic name of Scotland, as well as a near-ringer for "Caldonia," the Louis Jordan jump-blues standard--worked at the record store as a girl, paid in vinyl.

"When a customer came in, [George Morrison] would just run in the back," Shana recalled. "My grandmother worked at the cash register. She could entertain people for hours; she was a great conversationalist."

That easy affability must have rubbed off on Violet Morrison's granddaughter, a ready, bright talker in a recent interview from her Mill Valley home--unlike Violet's son, who is notorious as one of the most elusive, uncomfortable and sometimes hostile interview subjects in all of rock.

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