Release Date: Apr 1, 2008
Record label: Lost Highway
The title track shows that time has little withered Van Morrison’s voice. He could sing ”blah-blah-blah” and it would be pretty great. This is, in fact, what he does near the end of ”Behind the Ritual” — and it is pretty great. True, there are moments during this self-penned collection of bluesy numbers that the Irishman does indeed Keep It Simple, but perhaps too much so, and it comes off as Rather Too Easy instead.
Keep It Simple is a mantra for Van Morrison, as he stripped his music down to the bare basics years ago and then comfortably rode that groove, comprised in equal parts of blues, soul, jazz, and country. Van has been riding this groove so long that it's hard to pinpoint exactly when he settled into it, but looking back, things started to shift in the mid-'90s, as understated R&B rhythms took precedence and he started to punctuate them with country songs (or in the case of Pay the Devil, an entire LP of country tunes). Despite his new label Lost Highway's insistence that the fact this is his first album of all-original material since 1999's Back on Top, Keep It Simple doesn't feel all that different than the records since 1999, either in its feel or in structure, nor does it help that Van's songs play with older tunes, both in their lyrics and their very titles ("That's Entrainment," of course, but "Don't Go to Nightclubs" is a winning spin on "Don't Get Around Much Anymore").
That Van Morrison would veer from his routine of releasing covers concept albums and live recordings to deliver a small-combo recording of his own compositions should be seen as a welcome turn by many fans – although you may want to hold your cheers until after hearing the bluesy Keep It Simple. Evidently, Morrison’s notion of simplifying things involves finding an easier way to write songs by stringing together familiar lyrical clichés like “you take my breath away,” “in the evening when the sun goes down,” “sail the seven seas,” “don’t get around much any more,” “shake your money maker,” etc. It’s as though the entire album was written on autopilot, conceivably during the limo ride from the hotel to the studio.
"No wavelength, no mileage ... nothing is what it's supposed to be," sings Van Morrison on the second track of Keep It Simple, a simple declaration that the Man is back in the saddle. Morrison's first collection of originals in longer than most of us can remember relies on a characteristic combo of jazz phrasing and bluesy riffs that should please die-hards and maybe bring in a few latter-day converts.