keep 'em comin', Van

Too Long in Exile (Polydor)
Van Morrison

By Allen Howie

No less a rock figurehead than Bruce Springs teen reflected not long ago on Van Morrison's talent, observing that while the public often flocks to the latest sensation, Morrison continues to go nearly unnoticed, quietly releasing one great record after another. Add Too Long in Exile, his newest, to his nearly unbroken string of outstanding albums. The material here is equal parts pop (albeit Morrison's uniquely soulful brand of pop), blues and jazz, and each finds the singer sounding completely at home within its boundaries.

The pop numbers include the title track, which could do without Georgie Fame's choppy organ but is redeemed by Candy Dulfer's sax and Morrison's vocal, the fluid singing and good humor of "Ball and Chain" and the rich meditations of "In the Forest," as well as the spiritual road map laid out in "Till We Get the Healing Done" and the Celtic soul of "Before the World Was Made," with lyrics cobbed from Yeats. The longest cut on the record, "Tell Me What You Want," is prefaced by a subdued instrumental passage and one of the singer's wordless vocal reveries that finally dissolves into a low sustained growl and vanishes completely until the first verse of the song breaks through.

The blues portion of the program begins with an unflinching critique of the music business in "Big Time Operators," with some lacerating lead guitar, then runs through a soulfully transcendent take on Doc Pomus' "Lonely Avenue." Blues legend John Lee Hooker joins in for a giddy update of Morrison's classic "Gloria" and the slow blues of "Wasted Years," while Morrison goes it alone on an earthy cover of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" and a bluesy version of Brook Benton's "I'll Take Care of You."

The singer's fondness for jazz emerges on several cuts, including a brisk "The Lonesome Road," a sly cover of "Moody's Mood for Love" laid over a feathery cushion provided by Fame's organ and vibe work by Teena Lyle, and a supple Morrison instrumental, "Close Enough for Jazz."

As always, Morrison's lyrics explore the physical and spiritual peaks and valleys, and herein lies much of the charm of his record: that so revered a musical figure is still out there pursuing his muse, and even better, that he still takes us along with him. It makes Too Long in Exile a trip worth taking.