the master picks his favorites

The Best of Van Morrison, Volume II (Polydor)
Van Morrison

By Allen Howie

Unlike the first Van Morrison compilation, which collected his most familiar material, this set gathers together the singer's own favorites. It's interesting to note that all but two of the tracks selected were recorded in the last ten years, and the two exceptions are songs Morrison recorded with Them nearly three decades ago. It's an indication that Morrison feels his recent work is his strongest, and the evidence presented here makes a persuasive case.

The songs here act as a record of the singer's search for love and spiritual fulfillment, and his devotion to his Irish homeland. "Real Real Gone" is a catchy, uptempo number about true love in which Morrison quotes Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke and James Brown, with a nod to Sam Cooke. In the same vein, but at a slower pace, are the languid "One Irish Rover" and "Hymns to the Silence," the title track from last year's two-disc set.

Morrison celebrates his ancestral home in the aptly-titled "A Sense of Wonder," the Irish traditional tune "I'll Tell Me Ma," and the singer's own glorious "Coney Island."

But by far the bulk of the songs here describe Morrison's faith in God and his struggles to overcome his human nature in favor of the spiritual. "When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God" and "Enlightenment" fall into the latter category, while the reflective, delicate "In the Garden," the hypnotic "Rave on, John Donne" and "The Mystery" are unabashed celebrations of God's love and power.

Oddly enough, the two older songs, a cover of John Lee Hooker's "Don't Look Back" and Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," fit right in despite their dated production, perhaps because their theme is consistent with the philosophy found in the newer numbers.

For long-time Morrison fans, this second compilation will be a welcome reminder of his talent. For those who only know him from the radio, it will serve as an introduction to his newer material, and proof that his muse remains close at hand.