Van Morrison

Pay the Devil

The Belfast Cowboy is back in the country, at least for now. On March 7 Van Morrison was made an honorary citizen of Nashville, where he performed songs from his new album, Pay the Devil, at a ceremony at the Ryman Auditorium. Featuring a dozen country/western gems and three originals, Pay the Devil is pure fiddle-and-pedal-steel Americana—infused with that gutsy, bluesy, late-night-whisky voice of “Gloria” and John Lee Hooker covers. While the CD features several classics—including “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “Half as Much”—it’s the lesser-known songs that stand out, including Webb Pierce’s “There Stands the Glass” (“There stands the glass/Fill it up to the brim/Till my troubles grow dim”) and Connie Smith’s “Once a Day” (“But time has taken all the pain away/until now I’m down to hurtin’ once a day … every day, all day long”). The highlight: Rodney Crowell’s “Till I Can Gain Control Again,” from the dobro in the first few measures to Van’s heartbreaking rendering of the last lines: “I only hope that you can hold me now … ” It’s enough to make a fella cry in his Guinness.