You'll either grin or cringe when Van Morrison gets to the second song on his new album. On "Goin' Down to Monte Carlo," while trying to escape his problems, he is annoyed by what he finds en route: "Playing in the background of the restaurant/ Some kind of phony, pseudo jazz."
It's funny, perhaps unintentionally, because that's sort of what the iconic Irish singer-songwriter has accomplished on "Born to Sing: No Plan B," his second album for Blue Note Records after his Grammy-nominated "What's Wrong With This Picture?" in 2003.
Then again, Morrison has a sly sense of humor and might be in on the joke. This is among his most overtly jazz-tinged work, produced by Morrison and recorded in his native Belfast.
Horns spice up "Open the Door (To Your Heart)," a breezy soul serenade. If the music often seems too polite and tasteful, Morrison's songwriting at least drills down to deeper truths. (Anyone who thinks a legend, particularly one who's 67, should be cut some slack needs to hear Bob Dylan's ruminative new album, "Tempest.")
Addressing the economic downturn, Morrison rails against capitalism and materialism on "End of the Rainbow," before concluding that there's "no pot of gold" at the end of it. That same sentiment courses through the dingy funk of "If in Money We Trust." He simply swaggers on "Pagan Heart," the album's bluesiest song and also its standout moment.
One of the smoothest tunes has a title that also happens to capture this album at its core: “Close Enough for Jazz.” (Out Tuesday)
ESSENTIAL "Pagan Heart"