Van Morrison brought out his last album of original songs Keep Me Singing in September 2016 and since then has released four albums in quick succession which are a mixture of cover versions of songs by his favourite artists and his own songs. The Prophet Speaks is the latest, and to my ears the greatest of the four. Once again, he teams up with Joey De Francesco and his virtuoso band of Troy Roberts, Dan Wilson and Michael Ode. You certainly get your money’s worth on this album which is seventy minutes of cool jazz, soul & blues.
The opening track Gonna Send You Back Where I Got You From is written by Eddy ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson who Van obviously admires a lot, having recorded his song Hold It Right There on his previous album You’re Drivin’ Me Crazy. I particularly like the guitar playing of Dan Wilson on this track.
Dimples is one of the best-known songs by Van’s old friend John Lee Hooker. It was written in 1956 but was re-released in 1964 in the wake of the UK R & B boom and got to number 23 in the UK charts. It has been recorded by many artists over the years and Van’s version is as good as any. The band are cooking, I love the warm rich sound of Joey’s Hammond organ and Van on Sax & harmonica. There are plenty of yeahs & whoops which shows Van is enjoying himself. Got To Go Where The Love Is is a new song of Van’s and has a very radio friendly catchy sound. People like me who like searching for meanings in the lyrics will have a hard time with this album, but I think the reference to’ tearing down the wall of hate’ could be an anti-Trump message. Joey is the co-producer on this album and I like the laughter and party sounds at the end of the song which give it a very live feel. Laughin & Clowning is written by another of Van’s music heroes’ namely Sam Cooke. It was originally on Sam’s album Night Beat in 1963. It is a real shame that Sam Cooke was slain on December 11th, 1964 aged only 33. I bet Van would have loved to have worked with him at some point.
5 AM Greenwich Meantime is another Van original and although quite catchy is one of his lesser songs in my opinion. Gotta Get You Off My Mind is another song by an old friend of Van’s Solomon Burke, and daughter Shana helps out on backing vocals. Van excels himself on harp on this song. Teardrops is written by J.D. Harris, better known as Shakey Jake who contributes three songs to this album. This is a more bluesy sound with Joey on the keyboards rather than the organ. I Love The Life I Live is a Willie Dixon song. He actually recorded with Shakey Jake. They were both exponents of the Chicago Blues sound. I never knew this stuff till I listened to Van and looked these people up on Wikipedia. It is very educational listening to Van Morrison. The next track Worried Blues / Rollin’ And Tumblin’ was also written by Shakey Jake Harris and is six minutes of frenetic brilliance with Van scatting away to his heart’s content.
Ain’t Gonna Moan No More is another Van song and a highlight of the album for me. I like the eerie organ sound which reminds me of songs like I Put A Spell On You or something like that. It is Van the name-dropper in the lyrics of this song. He mentions Muddy Waters, John Lee, Jon Hendriks, Satchmo and Willie The Sheik. Joey’s trumpet is like a tribute to Satchmo and Van’s harmonica and alto saxophone is sublime. It reminds me slightly of his playing on great albums of the 80’s like Poetic Champions Compose. Love Is A Five Letter Word was written by Gene Barge and all I know about him is that he is a sax player born in 1926. In the song Love is spelled M-O-N-E-Y. Love Is Hard Work is another Van composition which I don’t think is that great, but not to worry because Van has saved the best for last. Spirit Will Provide is my favourite song on the album. It is the most different of all the songs here and most typical of the spiritually uplifting songs we associated with Van in the past. Shana again joins in on vocals. This is a song I would like to see Van perform live. The final song and title track The Prophet Speaks is another great song. Van’s alto sax is again to the fore as well as Joey’s organ sound and the delicate acoustic guitar work of Dan Wilson.
That brings to a close a most satisfying album indeed. I hope the next album will be an album of all Van original songs but in the meantime, I am going to enjoy listening to this collection of songs for quite a while. A big hand for the band.