Album reviews: Van Morrison | Marc Almond | Gary Numan | Cat Stevens

Van Morrison sticks to the blues while Marc Almond indulges his love of baroque pop with a beautiful selection of covers
Van MorrisonVan Morrison
Van Morrison

Van Morrison: Roll With The Punches ***


Marc Almond: Shadows And Reflections ****


Gary Numan: Savage (Songs From A Broken World) ***


Cat Stevens: The Laughing Apple ***


Like The Rolling Stones before him, Van Morrison has retreated to his bluesy comfort zone for his latest album, saying of the blues that “you don’t dissect it, you just do it”. Sure enough, he sounds like he is in his element, revisiting standards Stormy Monday and Bring It On Home To Me beside more connoisseur selections from Bo Diddley, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Little Walter.

He and his band capture the fun and spirit of I Can Tell and there’s a real sense of a collective performance throughout, so infectious that celebrated guests including Jeff Beck, Georgie Fame and Paul Jones, all Morrison contemporaries and lifelong lovers of the blues, can’t resist joining the party.

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Morrison has penned a handful of new originals to nestle beside the classics, including the standard chug of the title track, Transformation written with Bond lyricist Don Black and, best of all, the blithe jazzy swing of Too Much Trouble which is complemented by the southern gospel soul of Mose Allison’s Benediction.

Marc Almond celebrates his 60th birthday with a similar concept but in different style, indulging his love of 60s baroque pop on this collection of shimmering covers, lovingly orchestrated by the brilliant John Harle. Like Van, he has thrown in a couple of sympathetic originals, bookending the collection with the unnecessary backstory of a lonely man in an apartment drowning in these songs.

Almond has been here before with his Scott Walker and Gene Pitney covers. Yet again, he cherrypicks some less obvious gems such as Burt Bacharach’s cooing Blue On Blue, The Young Rascals’ dreamy How Can I Be Sure and The Yardbirds’ Still I’m Sad, with its tolling backing chorus of male melancholy, while the soaring siren chorus behind I’m Lost Without You evokes the atmosphere of a European movie melodrama from the 70s.

Is this a Gary Numan love song I hear before me? Sort of. And It All Began With You is a little creepy, twisted and angsty, but it does appear to pay some sort of romantic tribute among the rubble. However, it’s all part of a larger gothgeddon album concept. Savage (Songs From A Broken World) follows Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind) as an ostensibly more outward-looking vision of a post-apocalyptic desert world, parched by global warming, where cultures unite by sheer necessity.

Numan picks at his scabs on Bed of Thorns, with its chestbeating chorus “you’re welcome to feel what I feel” over a Middle Eastern-flavoured backdrop, but the rest of this morose, moody collection is conducted against his usual canvas of monumental synthesizers, fuzz guitar and industrial techno beats.

Cat Stevens has never been one to shy away from world affairs, which he tackles with a lightness of touch and a universality of purpose. Sadly, the peaceful pleas he wrote 50 years ago are still as relevant today. On The Laughing Apple, he re-records some of his early material, adding extra verses and stripping away the pop orchestration for a more direct acoustic troubadour approach.

He revisits twee but holistic numbers like Mighty Peace and Mary and the Little Lamb, as well as the disarming You Can Do (Whatever), a paean to personal responsibility (“you can treat the world like a piece of dust or a pot of gold”), originally intended for his classic soundtrack to Harold And Maude and mixes in three new numbers, including Don’t Blame Them, a thought-provoking appeal to guard against kneejerk Islamophobia.


Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina Volume 7 *****


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The music of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina is like a precious silken cloth. The delicate fibres that are its fluid, melismatic themes are woven by this greatest of Italian Counter Reformation composers into a musical fabric so perfect the impression on the ear is of something naturally fulfilling and complete. There is perfect balance, too, in these performances by the voices of Harry Christophers’ beautifully homogenous The Sixteen of works celebrating the pivotal place of women in Christian history. From the luxurious simplicity of Adioro vos, filiae Ierusalem and the attractive practicality of such hymns as Ave maris stella, to the impeccable polyphony of the Missa Ave Regina caelorum, Christophers moulds this heavenly music with masterly attention to shape, form and nuance, nowhere more so than in the heightened intimacy of those motets based on texts from the Song of Songs.



Bill Evans: Another Time: The Hilversum Concert ****

Resonance Records

Following last year’s salvaged studio recording of the influential pianist Bill Evans during a brief stint with Jack DeJohnette on drums, along with longstanding double-bassist Eddie Gomez, those jazz bloodhounds at Resonance Records have sniffed out a live recording from the same period with the same short-lived but vibrant trio.Recorded at a concert in Hilversum, Netherlands, this finds all three in superb form. Right from the opening Your Gonna Hear from Me, Evans attacks melodies with relish and inventiveness, Gomez’s bass is limber and rangy and DeJohnette’s cymbals urgently pave the way. That sense of melodic delight and energy unbound also informs Miles Davis’s Nardis, with DeJohnette taking a busy break, while the trio sashays through Gershwin’s Embraceable You with insouciant ease, bass springy as a romp in the park before Gomez embarks on a conversational solo.