Van Morrison is arguably one of the greatest solo musicians to come from the United Kingdom. On Friday, he released a new album, You’re Driving Me Crazy. The record is a collaboration with Joey DeFrancesco, who plays jazz trumpet and organ. It presents 15 reworked songs—six of which are covers and the rest of which are classic Van Morrison originals, such as “Have I Told You Lately?” and “The Way Young Lovers Do,” each coming from a different album. This is his 39th album, and continues to deliver the pleasant, easy sound that Morrison’s music often carries. He does, however, dismiss his usual hybrid-genre—some sensational combination of R&B, jazz, folk, rock, and Celtic music—and dives full-force into jazz, relying on DeFrancesco’s familiarity with the genre.
The song that inspired the album’s title, “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” doesn’t appear until the 11th track. The 1930s swing song by Walter Donaldson has been covered by many jazz, swing, and big-band performers. Morrison and DeFrancesco focus on the instruments in the almost-five-minute long song, presenting the type of music that might be performed in a jazz club. This was the case with most of the songs on the album, particularly the ones written by other artists, like “Travelin’ Light,” “The Things I Used to Do,” and “Hold It Right There.”
The first cover, “Miss Otis Regrets,” begins the album on a slow note. Written by Cole Porter in the 1930s, the song depicts a woman, who killed her husband and was kidnapped and killed by the mob. This song, among others on the album, includes instances where Morrison indistinctly sings no actual lyrics, which is pretty characteristic in his earlier songs, such as “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile).” in addition to distinct, classic features of jazz, like an occasional unidentified female voice echoing and harmonizing with the melody to the upbeat, swinging rhythm.
The unoriginal covers on the album are frequently performed by artists recreating these highly influential pieces of music in a variety of genres, so Morrison and DeFrancesco’s interpretation of each one is not unreasonable. The reworkings of Morrison’s own songs, however, often completely altered the spirit of each piece of music. The songs that were originally slow become much more upbeat—”Evening Shadows,” “Have I Told You Lately?”—while the upbeat songs are slowed down—“Close Enough for Jazz,” “Magic Time.”
Not every song, however, is vastly different from the original. “Goldfish Bowl,” from Morrison’s 2003 album What’s Wrong With This Picture?, kept its original sound more than any other song on this album. The band picked up the tempo and tightened the performance so that the sound is much clearer. This might be the only song that improved from its original—none of the others are necessarily worse, but they manipulate the sound of Morrison’s music so that it doesn’t carry the same versatility.
Similarly, “The Way Young Lovers Do” is vocally performed in basically the same manner as the original—the biggest change is the unusual incorporation of an instrumental organ solo that sounds very technically difficult, yet well-executed.
Collectively, this album doesn’t present Morrison’s usual sound, but it works. It’s a great collaboration between two phenomenal musicians, in which Morrison experiments with a pure genre that he has definitely has dabbled in, but hasn’t explicitly explored in its purest sense. Although that seems like a good thing, it’s really the album greatest flaw. Part of the reason Van Morrison is such a phenomenal musician is because of the way he integrates so many different genres into one piece of music. Although it would be very challenging to produce an entire album with a complete list of new songs in light of his vast musical record, moving away from that creativity and exploration seems like a waste.
Disregarding the spectacular albums that Van Morrison has produced in the past, You’re Driving Me Crazy is a wonderful soft-jazz album that showcases a lot of musical talent and dedication as they completely reworked 15 songs from various genres and times to fit into this one. Unfortunately—but not really—you can’t forget Morrison’s past: He’s been performing for a long time and his experience is very much evident in every song that he releases. After 38 other albums, it’s going to be nearly impossible to write much new material—and he sure as hell doesn’t need to considering the quality of his original songs—but the album ultimately fell a little short of Morrison’s usually diverse sound.
The organ makes these songs so easy to drown out if you’re doing something else while you listen. Calling it “elevator music” is harsh since the musicians are exceptional, but this album didn’t fully embrace Morrison’s unmistakably unique musicality. Still, any album of his is bound to be fantastic—Morrison is an extremely talented musician, who has the ability to incorporate a variety of sounds and genres into one song phenomenally. Listen to it once, and you might be a little disappointed, but the more you hear it, the more respect you’ll find for the talent shown in this album.
Featured Image by Warner Bros.