Van Morrison & Cassandra Wilson
What's Wrong With This Picture?
This is rock singer's Van Morrison's first release on the venerable Blue Note jazz label. It is not a jazz album, however. Rather, it is pop music drenched in Memphis and New Orleans-style blues with a sprinkling of country and western and a dab of 1950s rock. Morrison is an Irishman with a deep love and respect for American pop music and the blues and it shows.
With its twangy guitar accompaniment, swirling violins and cooing background vocals, the album's title track sounds as if it were tailor-made for Willie Nelson. Morrison wrote all but two of the tunes on the record. His songwriting talents really shine when he pens tunes relating his personal life experiences, interspaced with commentary on the state of the world. The standout song on this album is the autobiographical, "The Meaning of Loneliness." People often complain about the dearth of good song lyrics nowadays. Not here. With its references to the man as-a-solitary-being, this song has intelligent lyrics of the highest caliber. On "Goldfish Bowl," the reclusive Morrrison decries the intrusiveness of the media into the lives of the rich and famous, with himself being a case in point. Morrison doesn't hold back his anger in his plea to be left alone. On "Fame" the wordsmith aims his arrows at celebrities who never tire of being the center of the public's attention. The Lightnin' Hopkins song "Stop Drinking" is a feel good jump blues foot-stomper with rousing guitar and saxophone solos.
What's Wrong With This Picture? is a very pleasing bluesbased pop album, but the thing that makes it stand out in a crowded pop field is the high quality of the lyrics on some of the songs.
Glamoured, the new release by the songstress Cassandra Wilson, is a different story. Wilson is one of the today's top jazz singers, known for her distinctive, deep, rich, and mellow voice. Listening to this album one cannot help but ask if she is in a rut. The release is another repeat of three of her albums released over the past ten years.
The formula is the same: drawing on a plethora of non jazz idioms - country ("Crazy"), rock ("Fragile"), soul ("If Loving You Is Wrong"), pop ( "What Is It"), and blues ("Honey Bee"). Then adding her own melodic nuance and unique phrasing. And thereby hoping to crossover to a wider pop audience. She has done so with previous albums and will probably do the same with this latest release. The problem is that except for a very few songs Wilson sounds bored and emotionally detached from the material. One exception is her winning rendition of the Patsy Cline familiar "Crazy" with its sparse guitar, bass and percussion accompaniment. This is best track on the album. And it is too short. Her take of the Abbey Lincoln song "Throw It Away" is another very pleasing cut.
A definite plus on Glamoured is the improvement in Wilson's songwriting. She wrote six of the twelve songs and her lyrics are much more coherent and logical than on previous albums. But it is not enough to save what is largely a lethargic work.
Wilson has one of the earthiest voices in all of music, characterized by great timing, pacing and delivery. Being born and raised in the Mississippi Delta she has a definite blues vocal sensibility. For those new to her music I recommend Glamoured. However, for others who are already familiar with her work and Blue Light 'Til Dawn, you've heard it all before.
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What's Wrong With This Picture?
Track Listing: What's Wrong: What's Wrong With This Picture/ Whinin' Boy Moan/ Evening In June/ Too Many Myths/ Somerset/ Meaning Of Loneliness/ Stop Drinking/ Goldfish Bowl/ Once In a Blue Moon/ Saint James Infirmary/ Little Village/ Fame/ Get On With The Show
Personnel: Van Morrison- vocals, acoustic guitar, alto sax; Acker Blik- clarinet; Keith Donald- bass clarinet; Lee Goodall- alto sax, flute, baritone sax, vocals; Martin Winningtenor sax, clarinet; Richard Dunn- organ, piano; Gavin Poveypiano; Fiachra Trench- piano; New Edwards- guitars, vocals; Mick Green- electric guitar; Foggy Little- electric guitar, vocals; Johnny Scott- electric guitar, mandolin; David Hayes- bass, vocals; Pete Hurley- bass; Nicky Scott- bass; Alan Wickey- congas, washboard; Liam Bradley- drums, vocals; Bobby Irwin- drums
Track Listing: Fragile/ Sleight of Time/ I Want More/ If Loving You Is Wrong/ Lay Lady Lay/ Crazy/ What Is It/ Heaven Knows/ Honey Bee/ Broken Drum/ On This Train/ Throw It Away
Personnel: Cassandra Wilson- vocals, guitar; Fabrizio Sotti- guitars; Brandon Ross- guitar, banjo; Reginal Veal- bass; Calvin Jones- bass; Gregoire Maret- harmonica; Jeffrey Haynespercussion; Terri Lyne Carrington, Herlin Riley- drums, washboard