|Personnel: Van Morrison (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, harmonica, alto saxophone); Van Morrison; James C. Hunter (vocals, guitar, electric guitar, background vocals); Lonnie Donegan (vocals, acoustic guitar); John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Carl Perkins (vocals, electric guitar); Junior Wells (vocals, harmonica); Ben Sidran, Ray Charles (vocals, piano); Georgie Fame (vocals, background vocals); Jimmy Witherspoon, Annie Ross, Tom Jones, Bobby "Blue" Bland (vocals); Mick Cox, Mick Cox, Arty McGlynn, Jim Sullivan (acoustic guitar); Johnny Scott (electric guitar, mandolin, background vocals); Jerry Elston, Nadine Marsh Edwards, Jerry Elston (electric guitar); Sean Keanne, Se n Keane (fiddle); Rosie Wetters (strings); Lee Goodall (flute, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone); Teena Lyle (recorder, piano, vibraphone, percussion, background vocals); Lee Goodall (alto saxophone); Haji Akbar (flugelhorn, background vocals); Fiachra Trench, Geraint Watkins (piano, Hammond b-3 organ); Joe Schenk, Richard Dunn, Joe Schenck (piano); Richard Dunn, John Allair (Hammond b-3 organ); David Hayes, Pete Hurley, Greg Perkins, Richard Cousins, Steve Pearce, Yolanda Charles (bass instrument); Chris Barber (double bass, background vocals); Stan Perkins, Stan Perkins (drums); Alan 'Sticky' Wicket, Alan Wickett (washboard); Chris Barber , Nick Payne, Teena Lyle, Haji Ahkba, Nicky Payne, Johnny Scott (background vocals); Foggy Lyttle (guitar, electric guitar); Mick Green (acoustic guitar, electric guitar); Paul "Turk" Henry (acoustic guitar); Dave "Clem" Clempson, Jeff Mironov, Ronnie Johnson (electric guitar); Derek Bell (harp); Martin Fry (fiddle); Paddy Moloney (tin whistle, Uilleann pipe); Martin Winning (clarinet, tenor saxophone); Kate St. John (oboe, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone); Pee Wee Ellis (soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, background vocals); Alan Skidmore, Candy Dulfer (alto saxophone); Leo Green (tenor saxophone, background vocals); Charles Pillow (tenor saxophone); Matt Holland (trumpet, flugelhorn, background vocals); James McMillan (trumpet, flugelhorn); Jeff Kievit, Guy Barker, Tony Kadleck (trumpet); Jonn Savannah (piano, background vocals); Chris Stainton, Phil Coulter, Robin Aspland, Brian Connor (piano); Michael Bearden (keyboards); Ian Jennings, Alec Dankworth (double bass); Nicky Scott (electric bass, background vocals); Geoff Dunn (drums, percussion); Chris Hunt, Kevin Hayes , Shawn Pelton, Ralph Salmins, Ian Thomas , Liam Bradley, Bobby Irwin (drums); Nathaniel Kunkel (shaker); Crawford Bell, Fonzi Thornton, Shana Morrison, Tawatha Agee, Vaneese Thomas, Jerome Rimson, Siobhan Pettit, Olwin Bell, Aine Whelan, Karen Hamill, Brian Kennedy (background vocals); Sharon Riley & Faith Chorale Choir, The Irish Film Orchestra.
|Van Morrison stopped having hits long before the release of the second volume of The Best of Van Morrison in 1993, so it's not practical to assume that its double-disc successor -- delivered a whopping 14 years later, compared to the three separating the first two volumes -- has songs that are familiar to a general audience. Nor should it be assumed that this is a collection of great songs that he's written in that decade-and-a-half, since this is chock-full of covers, including revivals of songs he recorded throughout his career. Furthermore, a full 14 songs -- the length of the first disc of this comp -- are credited as collaborations, and include some previously unreleased cuts that can be counted among a handful of rarities here. It's idiosyncratic, which perhaps could be expected from any comp assembled by the artist himself, but it's also accurate, and it helps makes sense of a rather odd stretch of album-making in a way that's necessary. Taken one at a time, Van's excursions into jazz, country, even skiffle seemed odd, but condensed into this 31-track set, it not only makes sense, it makes an argument that Van has been more true -- if not necessarily vital -- than many of his peers in his latter days. Instead of churning out songs that he's not inspired to write, he's relying on standards to find himself, and finding more inspiration in singing with others than flying solo. As individual records, some of these albums were bewildering, some were quite wonderful, but excerpted and sculpted into something resembling a testimonial, if not a narrative, it's easier to understand what Morrison was up to during a span where he never delivered one album as acclaimed or vital as Dylan or Young (or even McCartney or the Stones), but this goes a long way to proving that hardly means he stopped making good music. If anything, listening to his music in this fashion makes a strong argument for the value of this decade-and-a-half of recording better than any individual Van album from this time, so it's as worthy a listen for those fans who have followed him loyally over these 15 years as it is for those who bowed out around the time of the last The Best of Van Morrison. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine