By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


June 21, 2005

Van Morrison
"Magic Time"
Geffen Records

The 38th solo album of Van Morrison's storied career isn't for listening at the gym, at work or in the car. It's meant for those quiet times and intimate times -- those magic time -- when the lights are low and reception is high. Headphones and an adult beverage don't hurt, either.

"You can call it nostalgia, I don't mind," Morrison sings on the title cut, one of 10 originals plus three Swing-era covers that track from blues to ballads with touches of downtown funk and uptown sophistication.

The old Belfast cowboy, who turns 60 on Aug. 31, blows a fine harp throughout and is in great voice, starting with "Stranded," which overcomes some clichéd lyrics with touches of doo-wop. Moving through the chugging blues of "Evening Train" and the confessional "Gypsy in My Soul," Morrison tells us in "Just Like Greta" what anyone who's seen him perform with his back to the audience knows: He just wants to be left alone.

But while he may think he's out, the world keeps pulling him back in: an old love he's hoping to meet on a "Celtic New Year," or the evil music business, TV business and business of business on "Sold Me Out" and the rousing closer "Carry on Regardless."

The three covers are good mood changers and are creditably performed, but they veer too close to lounge territory. Of the Fats Waller ballad "Lonely and Blue" and two songs recorded by Frank Sinatra among many others -- "This Love of Mine" and "I'm Confessin'" -- the latter is the most successful.

Morrison may lean toward nostalgia on the surface, but he continues to be curious and adventurous.