Van Morrison’s latest album sees him return to his roots in some style, sharing with us a modern, fun-filled and exciting take on what many label as music’s forgotten revolution – skiffle.
Made popular in 1950s Britain, Skiffle has proved itself to be the gateway for many of music’s most legendary artists. Alongside Morrison, it can boast itself as the origin story of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Even the likes of Jimmy Page and David Bowie started side by side with guys using washboards, empty jugs and washtubs as instruments. Perhaps the novelty of these images is to blame for it being so misunderstood, however ‘Moving On Skiffle’ is here to correct that and to cure us of this collective amnesia.
Speaking on his latest release, Van Morrison says, “I was still in school when I performed with a skiffle band – a couple of guitars, washboard, tea-chest bass. I was already familiar with Lead Belly’s recordings so when I heard Lonnie Donegan’s version of ‘Rock Island Line’, I intuitively understood what he was creating, I knew that it was what I wanted to do. It was like an explosion. This record retranslates songs from that era.”
This album can claim to hold some of the best work from Van Morrison in recent times. He’s not taken a back seat, riding on the already-established classics. He’s taken a hold of them and successfully redefined these pieces, all while maintaining a level of respect for their origins and staying true to the spirit of the original songs.
Moving On Skiffle opens with a strong rendition of ‘Freight Train’ by Elizabeth Cotton – a song that was later taken by Chris McDevitt and recorded in 1956, becoming a major UK hit. Combined with this, songs such as ‘This Loving Light of Mine’ (impossible not to sing along to), ‘Sail Away Ladies’ and ‘Streamline Train’ provide a genuinely uplifting start, full of heart-warming lyrics and a fun tempo to match.
The album is loaded with some real standout moments. These include ‘Streamlined Cannonball’, ‘Come On In’ and ‘Worried Man Blues’. All of these showcase how throughout the 23 tracks, Morrison introduces his distinctive and warm soulful sound, alongside the trademark jazz arrangements we have come to associate him with. He takes the reigns laying down sax on numerous tracks. He fills any space that will have it with beautifully composed guitar fills, powerful bluesy harmonica breaks, and lively guitar solos.
A notable song on the album is ‘Gov Don’t Allow’. Originally recorded by The Memphis Jug Band and Tampa Red in the 1920s – it seems clear that Morrison has changed the lyrics to fit more in line with what he would call his “anti-government overreach” philosophy. This came to the forefront of headlines most recently in Northern Ireland during the Covid-19 pandemic. A stringent opponent of the lockdown measures that kept music venues closed at the time, Van Morrison’s attitude towards the science-backed measures was divisive, to say the least. He has previously released a few anti-lockdown tracks and ‘Gove Don’t Allow’ seems set to be an unfortunate and unsuccessful new addition.
Focusing back on the many golden moments the album does throw at us, however- and there is a wealth of them. Bringing the curtain down is a truly special version of the powerful melancholy sounds of ‘Green Rocky Road’, a folk song those who are fans of the film ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ will know well. It provides a perfect place for Morrison to conclude the record on a tender note. A humble, gentle song, that thrives on the sincere soulful vocals Morrison lays down and the beautifully composed harmonies that accompany it from those on backing vocals.
All in all, there is a palpable energy that runs through the heart of this album. You can feel the passion for the music and the enjoyment he and the band must have felt while recording it. It’s a rare collection of songs one can confidently say will sound bigger, better and full of fun live on stage. They are a collection of songs made for a live audience. Songs wrongly forgotten in time, reshaped, revitalized, and restored for us today. It’s a love letter to skiffle and a respectful nod to those who came before him – and it will undoubtedly go down as Van Morrison’s best work for some time.
Be the first to comment