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Way back in ancient history — the ’60s — I was living in San Francisco, and one of my favorite ways to spend a sunny day was driving the winding road to Stinson Beach. I had the top of my VW bug down and was tripping to Astral Weeks, the essential second album by Irish troubadour Van Morrison. Here it is more than four decades later, and listening to Van Morrison's latest — his 35th(!) solo album — I declare the artist has still got the magic and the music in him.

VM's vocal style mesmerizes, as it swings and plays the lyrics around the instruments accompanying him. Born to Sing/No Plan B features ten original tracks on which the Grammy-winning songsmith plays the piano, guitar, and alto sax.

The album kicks off with one of its strongest songs, "Open the Door," a breezy soul strut that says all you need to know about the icon’s ’60s roots: "Money doesn't make you fulfilled/ money is just to pay the bills.” My favorite take, however, is "Going Down to Monte Carlo," a traveling song, with an "Astral Weeks" vibe and contempo-jazz background sound.

The title track is a retro, almost doo-wop-sounding song, and "End of the Rainbow" kicks off with a catching, swing-jazz instrumental. The biggest surprise on the album, though, is the last song, "Educating Archie," which I suspect refers to the old TV character Archie Bunker, and his conservative politics: "You're a slave to the capitalist system/ You're controlled by the media/ What happened to the individual?/ Tell me, what happened to you"?

  • Album: Born to Sing/No Plan B
  • Artist: Van Morrison
  • Label: Blue Note
  • Songs: (1) Open the door (to your heart) (2) Going Down to Monte Carlo (3) Born to sing (4) End of the Rainbow (5) Close enough for Jazz (6) Mystic of the East (7) Retreat and View (8) If in the money we trust (9) Pagan Heart (10) Educating Archie
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