As a music legend with a career spanning more than 50 years, Van Morrison has earned the right to do whatever he damn well pleases. And he’s using that artistic clout to release a succession of albums — four in 14 months. “The Prophet Speaks” is the latest addition to his growing catalog.
Like “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” which came out last April, Morrison, once again, works with jazz organist/trumpeter Joey DeFrancesco and his band on this mix of R&B, blues and jazz standards along with six originals. Morrison and company don’t mimic the inspiring moments of his musical education. Instead, the main intent on the album’s 14 tracks is to make sure each number swings, which is what you get on a cover of Eddie “Mr. Cleanhead” Vinson’s “Gonna Send You Back to Where I Got You From,” Willie Dixon’s “I Love the Life I Live” and why his version of “Worried Blues/Rollin’ and Tumblin’ sounds more attuned for a set at Ronnie Scott’s rather than a Chicago club. A cover of John Lee Hooker’s “Dimples” ignores its juke joint roots and Cooke’s “Laughin and Clownin’’” revises the original’s slow burn in favor of a groove that settles well into Morrison’s wheelhouse.
It turns out that’s just a warm up for the album’s standout, the Morrison-penned “Got to Go Where the Love Is.” It’s the most loose-limbed track on the album, and sounds as if Van and his backup band are having a grand time playing it. Another original, “5AM Greenwich Mean Time,” revels in its late night club ambiance.
Like his other recent albums, much of “The Prophet Speaks” focuses on past favorites. While he does a fine job adapting the material to his style, it’s Morrison’s compositions that are noteworthy. A reminder of this comes at the very end. The combination of blues and laidback jazz found on “Spirit Will Provide” and the title track are reminiscent of his most memorable self-assured work. Both bode well for the future.