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Van Morrison

Pay the Devil (Lost Highway)

Reviewed by Margaret Moser, Fri., Sept. 15, 2006

ACL Music Fest Reviews

Van Morrison

Pay the Devil (Lost Highway)

No secret Van Morrison has a wonderfully expressive voice – earthy, soulful, poignant, and well-suited to numerous styles of music from garage rock to jazz and his native Irish. Yet in his tackling country music, the results on Pay the Devil are mixed at best. Some of the material is predictable (an umpteenth version of "Your Cheatin' Heart"), some is arranged with the schlockier aspects of Sixties Nashville country (witness the Ray Conniff-like chorus on "Big Blue Diamonds"). Yet Rodney Crowell's "Till I Gain Control Again" is exquisite, framing Morrison's voice with conviction as beautifully as "Carrickfergus" did with the Chieftains. Illustrating the album's uneven nature so much more is the excellent self-penned title track, whose country flavor well suits Morrison, which is exactly the point. Country isn't lowest common denominator music, and singing it well requires the right phrasing, but it's not Morrison's style. Included in the package is a live DVD performance at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium (and featuring Austin's steel sweetheart Cindy Cashdollar), highlighting five of the CD's songs but still not coming across as it should. Morrison's a voice to make you taste that whiskey in the jar but not feel the tear in the beer. (Friday, 8:30pm, AT&T stage)

**

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