A familiar mix of soul-tinged rockers and romantic ballads, Van Morrison's latest collection (due in stores Tuesday) is a little more stripped-down than 1997's "The Healing Game," but not much more emotionally convincing.
The legendary Irish artist puts in all the expected elements, from the music's casual blend of pop, soul, jazz and folk to the lyrics' reflections on lost romances and life experiences to the name-dropping of such meaningful (to Morrison) icons as Chet Baker. The band consistently grooves along in an agreeable, if lightweight, pop vein, especially on such upbeat tracks as "Precious Time."
But disappointingly, the man still holds back on his once so free-flying vocals, never breaking away during the choruses nor ever flourishing at all. He does deliver moments of real fire, swinging with a muffled gruffness on the rollicking blues-rocker "Goin' Down Geneva," and whisper-crooning with truly plaintive misery on the soul-pop ballad "Reminds Me of You."
But he musters the most passion for his privacy, chastising acquaintances in the wry, percussive rebuke "New Biography," apparently for daring to discuss their knowledge of him with outsiders. Given his reclusive-genius status, that's not surprising, but it's also not very compelling.
\o7 Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.\f7