Van Morrison – Keep It Simple

van-simple.jpgNot to say he’s phoning it in on this, his 34th studio album, but on the record’s final track, “Behind the Ritual,” Van Morrison simply sings five lines of “blah, blah, blah, blah” – quote unquote.

Van the Man has a reputation for stream-of-consciousness, but it’s a bit much.

“Keep It Simple” isn’t as lazy as all that, but it’s a pretty easygoing affair – and by no means unpleasant. Morrison has gone out of his way to challenge listeners in the past, so the loping blues of “How Can A Poor Boy?” is a welcome respite.

The many strands of influence that inform the Morrison muse are all present here. The gentle ballad “Lover Come Back” blends Celtic echoes with gospel soul. “No Thing,” sounds like it was lifted from a mid-1960’s Ray Charles album – no surprise considering his last disc, “Pay the Devil,” was a modern-day doppelganger for Charles’ two “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music” records.

“After many demands, I’ve destroyed all my plans,” he sings on “End of the Land,” and for much of “Keep it Simple” the finicky Irishman is playing to the mirror, fashion be damned. In anyone else’s hands, that would be a disaster, but he manages to pull it off.

Other highlights include the banjo-driven “Song of Home” – though the fiddle’s a bit too buried for these ears. The jazzy, go with the flow “That’s Entrainment” best sums up the record’s toss-it-all demeanor.

“Keep It Simple” is as fickle as Van Morrison’s mood; he’s not stretching out, breaking into a trot or even breaking a sweat. But it’s all quite enjoyable nonetheless.

“Brainwashed” Shana Morrison’s Family Tradition

shana-morrison-small.jpgShana Morrison tried to chart her own path from youth to adulthood; her aspirations – business school and a career in finance – would seemingly delight most parents. But Shana’s wasn’t an ordinary household.

Her father responded to her plans with a terse question. “Why do you want to do business? Business people are a**holes.”

Later, Dad tried a more sanguine approach to coax Shana into the family trade. At graduation, he suggested she try a few months in his profession before looking for work in hers.

Thus, she joined Van Morrison for a brief tour in late 1993. 13 years later, Shana Morrison is still carrying on the family tradition.

Van Morrison’s ‘Blues and Soul Review’ tour, said Shana during a phone interview Saturday, “was a three hour show with a bunch of different musicians. I only did two songs, so it wasn’t like people had to hear his daughter squawk all night.”

After the tour, Shana joined Claddagh (leader Kevin Brennan had also worked with Van), and later formed her own band, Caledonia. “Then fans started asking for a CD,” she says, “so we thought we’ll release something as a snapshot in time. It wasn’t something that was planned. “

Shana, who performs tomorrow night at the Ascutney Mountain Resort, shares her father’s penchant for exploring many musical directions. 2002’s “Seven Wishes” was produced by studio heavyweight Steve Buckingham and has a country-pop feel. It was, says Morrison, “a really beautiful, pristine-sounding record.”

Her latest, however, churns with the raw power reminiscent of artists like Susan Tesdeschi and Bonnie Raitt. This begs the question: is the album’s title, “That’s Who I Am,” a declaration of sorts?

“Yeah, definitely,” says Morrison. “I’d never been able to record anything that was really bluesy or really R&B-oriented. That’s what the goal was for this record, to choose a group of songs that would work for that kind of approach.”

Morrison produced most of “That’s Who I Am” herself, with help from longtime guitarist Chris Collins. Listening to it, one is struck by how much fun the band seems to be having, quoting the Sugarhill Gang’s hip-hop classic “Rapper’s Delight” in “Drive,” and turning the traditional standard “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” into a high-speed rave-up. The album’s highlight is “Simple,” an epic blues number that showcases Collins and “Mighty” Mike Schermer trading off bristling guitar solos.

Unlike “Seven Wishes,” she released the new record independently. “It’s easier to record an 11 minute song without an label executive looking over your shoulder,” she says.

Morrison stuck with blues rock for the new disc. “Each time you do a record, you need to focus it a bit,” she says. Onstage, she’s less encumbered, more adventurous.

“My music can be really…” Shana pauses to explain, though anyone familiar with the many twists and turns in her father’s body of work certainly understands that the Morrison muse is nothing if not diverse. “If you come to see my show, people can get really confused. We’ll start the night with some Irish songs, then we’ll do some pop and some blues.” She’ll also put her own touch on “Van the Man” favorites like “Into the Mystic” and “St. Dominic’s Preview.”

Things will be even more interesting for this short East coast tour. Worcester chamber-pop trio The Curtain Society, augmented by Huck’s Scott Ricciuti on guitar, serve as her backup band for Friday’s performance.

Economic necessity dictates the move. “Gas prices,” she sighs. Travel costs in general make mounting a tour with a band difficult. She’s considered a solo or a duo act, “but when you’re in the bar and nightclub settings you want to do something a little more raucous,” she says.

She’s worked with the Curtain Society before. “I did some shows with them last year when I was on my way back from Europe,” she says. “They can play some really interesting things that we’ve never come up with before with my band. It may not be something an audience would notice, but it perks me up.”

Her life today is a far cry from the one she imagined in college. She once told financial writer Lee Silber that, as a child, she “envied other kids whose parents had normal jobs,” recalling how they would “live in a mansion and buy a new car and stereo system one year and have to sell it all” the next.

She is, says Morrison, “aware that most people go at this a long time and never make any money. “

“I guess I was brainwashed,” she laughs.

When she decided to become a full-time performer, “my parents were ecstatic and proud,” says Shana Morrison.

“Because what else is there better than being a musician?”