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October 18, 1995

Spiritual Struggles

Days Like ThisVan Morrison, Days Like This (Polydor 1995) - Days Like This is the 25th album from Van Morrison (not counting reissues and greatest hits collections), whose solo career started with Blowing' Your Mind in 1967 and continued through last year's double-live set, A Night in San Francisco.

On Days Like This, Morrison continues to explore the paradox of being caught between the sublimity of heaven above and the mixed blessings of earth below, an ongoing struggle that is played out against a background of rock, American blues & soul, gospel, New Orleans jazz, and mystic Celtic folk.

Days Like This shows that Morrison has concluded his remarkable run during the past few years with organist Georgie Fame, a period that resulted in such gems as No Guru, No Method, No Teacher and Enlightenment. This collaboration produced some of Morrison's most invigorating work; Days Like This finds Morrison returning to his roots.

And those roots are deep and varied. Days Like This reaches back and moves ahead simultaneously, with a pop/soul sound that recalls such Morrison classics as Astral Weeks and Moondance in their simplicity of style and lyric.

Van MorrisonFor example, the elegant ballad "In the Afternoon" could have come from Tupelo Honey, and "Ancient Highway" could easily be a leftover from the Common One sessions. Days Like This also includes two cover songs - "You Don't Know Me," originally a hit for Morrison idol, Ray Charles, and "I'll Never Be Free."

Morrison uses a horn section on most of the 12 cuts on Days Like This, and also accepts vocal assistance from female singers,Teena Lyle, Kate St. John (from Dream Academy) and daughter, Shana Morrison.

Morrison (age 50) has long been uncomfortable with fame, and still battles a host of unseen tormenters. Thus, Morrison sometimes settles into a funk on Days Like This, with such songs as "Underlying Depression," "Melancholia," and "Songwriter" (in which he sings, "I'm a songwriter and I do it for a living/Please don't call me a safe/I'm a songwriter").

Fortunately, the album also features more upbeat, pop-oriented songs such as "Perfect Fit" and "Days Like This," in which Morrison recognizes that there are also sunny days.

One of the more interesting tracks on Days Like This is "No Religion," in which Morrison sings "There's no mystery/And there's nothing hidden/And there's no religion here today." These lyrics fly directly in the fact of "In the Garden" (a masterpiece from No Guru, No Method, No Teacher), and highlight Morrison's current melancholia. On "In the Garden," Morrison acknowledged his deep-felt religious beliefs; on "No Religion." he seems to announce his abandonment of these beliefs. Obviously, something is going on.

Days Like This is a fine album, but resembles a rudderless ship. Morrison has huge talent, but needs guidance to help keep him on course. Georgie Fame provided that guidance. Without Georgie, Morrison is allowed to engage in all of his indulgences. Sweet as they are, Van needs more focus. And more hope.

Al GreenAl Green, Tokyo Live (The Right Stuff 1995) -- Tokyo Live was originally an import-only double album set recorded during Al Green's performance in June, 1978 at the Tokyo Music Festival. Released for the first time in the U.S., Tokyo Live shows why the charismatic Green clinched the Grand Prize for "best vocalist" against such international stars as Blondie and Kate Bush.

Green, of course, was one of the 70s' biggest soul draws. During a two-year span, he sold 20 million records worldwide and had four albums and seven singles certified gold. Al's concerts often came close to riots, as passionate female fans clamored to touch and kiss the so-called "prince of love," who fed the fire by tossing roses from the stage.

As is well known, Green suffered a series of spiritual crises in the mid-to-late 70s, starting in 1974 when a spurned girlfriend poured hot grits down Green's back and then committed suicide. This episode left Green hospitalized and apparently further wounded his already vulnerable personality.

Green founded his church, the Full Gospel Tabernacle, in Memphis in 1976. During these years, Green's text became more tormented, as he was increasingly torn between the desires of the flesh and the spirit.

Al GreenIn 1978 (when Tokyo Live was recorded), Green was still tottering between worldly ambition and his spiritual calling; he didn't abandon secular entertainment until 1979, when he fell from a stage during a performance in Cincinnati and spent 15 days in a hospital.

Tokyo Live shows Green in the crossroads. The album contains 14 songs, including such tracks as "Let's Get Married," "Sha-la-la (Make Me Happy)," and "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?" (written by the brothers Gibb). While Green tries to light a fire, the cuts are often overlong ("Love & Happiness" clocks in at 6:21, and "I Feel Good" is a whopping 9:30) and flat.

Green is one of the giants of the genre, but worked better in the studio than live; without the tight Hi Records rhythm section behind him, the songs meander. Tokyo Live is a disc for completists; fans looking for an introduction to the amazing Green will be much happier with Green's greatest hits package (a must-own) or the three-disc Hi Times collection.

-- Randy Krbechek

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