Van Morrison revisits catalog in duets compilation

Van Morrison, 69, is considered “one of the most prolific recording artists and extraordinary live performers of our time,” according to an RCA Records news release. His numerous awards and accolades include six Grammy Awards, Brit and Ivor Novello awards, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is also the recipient of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) as well as France’s Ordres Des Artes Et Des Lettres—both in recognition the singer’s international contributions to music. Morrison’s “visionary songwriting and mastery of many genres continues to shine on albums celebrating and re-exploring his blues, jazz, skiffle and country roots,” continues the press announcement, and he has amassed “one of the most revered catalogues in music history.”

Duets: Re-Working The Catalogue features 16 songs from Morrison’s vast catalog, each reinterpreted by the artist and a list of duet partners he personally selected. The album was produced by the singer-songwriter along with Don Was and Bob Rock, and was created from an arsenal of some 360 songs written and recorded during the course of Morrison’s 50-plus year career. The artist deliberately steered away from his more well-known classics, and the duet partners he tabbed are those he “most respects” to “re-craft and re-imagine” the songs with him.

The album was recorded in 2014 in Morrison’s home town of Belfast, Northern Ireland, and in London. A variety of musicians and fresh arrangements were used to create the new renditions of the artist’s work. The music dates back to the 1970 album, His Band and the Street Choir, which features the track, ‘Lord, If I Ever Needed Someone’ with Mavis Staples of the famed Staples Singers. The most recent contribution is ‘Born To Sing,’ a song from Morrison’s latest album of new material—2012’s No Plan B—that he shares with British singer Chris Farlowe.

Morrison chose his duet with Canadian crooner Michael Buble on ‘Real Real Gone’ to be the first single from Duets: Re-Working The Catalogue. The song was originally released in 1990 as part of the Enlightenmentalbum. ‘Some Peace of Mind’ with Bobby Womack first appeared on Hymns to the Silence from 1991; ‘Higher Than The World’ with jazz guitarist George Benson is off 1983’s Speech of the Heart; and ‘Wild Honey’ with soulful Brit songstress Joss Stone is taken from the 1980 album Common One.

English jazz singer Clare Teal helps in ‘Carrying A Torch’ from Hymns to the Silence (1991); Grammy Award-winning American jazz vocalist Gregory Porter takes a turn with Morrison on ‘The Eternal Kansas City’ off A Period of Transition (1977); and Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall is the co-vocal on ‘Streets Of Arklow’ from Veedon Fleece (1974). R&B song stylist Natalie Cole helps Morrison serve up ‘These Are The Days’ from Avalon Sunset (1989).

Two tracks from 1997’s The Healing Game include ‘Rough God Goes Riding’ with the singer’s daughter, Shana Morrison, and ‘Fire in the Belly’ with longtime friend and fellow artist Steve Winwood. Former Dire Strait’s frontman-guitarist Mark Knopfler is featured on the title track to the 1988 LP Irish Heartbeat, and another ‘60s era mate, Taj Mahal, shares the vocal on ‘How Can A Poor Boy’ from 2008’s Keep It Simple. Next up for Morrison is a tour of Europe, the U.K., Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland.

Check out the official lyric video for Van Morrison’s duet with Michael Buble on ‘Real Real Gone,’ the first single from the vocal icon’s new compilation titled, Duets: Re-Working The Catalogue.

As A Matter of Fact…

* George Ivan Morrison was born August 31, 1945, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He grew up listening to his father’s American jazz and blues recordings, and quit school at age 15 to join a local R&B band that toured military bases throughout Europe. He returned home after the tour and formed his own group called Them.

* Them featured a fiery, gritty sound heavily influenced by blues artists such as Howlin' Wolf, Brownie McGhee, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Little Walter. The group had a large local following, and in late 1964 recorded debut single, ‘Don't Start Crying Now.’ The follow up, a cover of Big Joe Williams' ‘Baby Please Don't Go,’ cracked the U.K. Top 10 in 1965.

* Them had two Top 40 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 with ‘Here Comes The Night’ and ‘Mystic Eyes,’ but Morrison’s rock classic ‘Gloria’ was a bigger hit for U.S. band The Shadows of Knight,’ which made it a Top 10 smash in 1966. Morrison eventually got fed up with the Them’s constant personnel fluctuations, and left the band in 1966.

* Morrison relocated to New York City to begin a solo career, releasing ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ on Bang Records as his solo debut in 1967. The success of the Top 10 hit was marred by the failure of its associated album, Blowin' Your Mind. A disappointed Morrison returned to Ireland in search of a new record deal.

* Morrison signed with Warner Bros. Records and released 1968's Astral Weeks, which is widely recognized as among his greatest works. The 1970 follow-up, Moondance, is just as highly regarded and an FM radio favorite behind the tracks ‘And It Stoned Me,’ ‘Crazy Love,’ ‘Caravan,’ ‘Into the Mystic,’ and the title track.

* The 1970s proved to be one of Morrison’s most fertile creative periods as he deftly navigated a course of trademark compositions that blend R&B, blues, soul, jazz and rock. He proved to be even more eclectic in the next few decades with albums such as Too Long in Exile (1993), How Long Has This Been Going On (1996), Down the Road (2002), the country-tinged Pay the Devil (2006), Keep It Simple (2008), and 34th studio album Born to Sing: No Plan B (2012).

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