Van Morrison

Pay the Devil

Surely Van Morrison, offering mostly classic covers and three originals, can avoid mongrelized country-pop treacle and tap the great storytelling heart of country music. Well, it is all heartbreak and pedal-steel, but the heartbreak is the listener’s. Morrison’s voice is in its usual fine form—no complaints there—but most of the performances feel perfunctory. His phrasing, usually the most striking feature of Morrison’s vocal work, is monotonously straight. Presumably it’s a try for country’s typically un-syncopated style, but it’s unnecessary; the band does a fine, if forgettable, job of conveying a straight-four country feel. Kudos for engineering and string arrangement are in order, but the musicianship is less than stellar. Van the Man should have kicked back and let loose a bit.