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Morrison returns to his roots

You Win Again
You Win Again
By Van Morrison and Linda Gail Lewis

Virgin Records: 2000

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This review first appeared in the October 15, 2000 edition of the American Reporter.

Van Morrison has spent most of his career putting his uniquely Irish spin on the quintessentially American sound of the blues. For more than 30 years, it's worked pretty darn well.

And while his early career with the '60s Irish R&B band Them contained a ton of covers, for the most part Morrison composes new songs for his albums.

Which makes his latest release, done in partnership with Jerry Lee Lewis' piano-playing kid sister Linda Gail, such a surprise and delight: It's an ode to the country-western and blues that inspired Morrison growing up in Belfast in the late '40s and '50s.

The baker's dozen tracks include three songs by Hank Williams, two songs identified with John Lee Hooker, and one each from Bo Diddley and Otis Blackwell. There's even one new song from Morrison himself, and it fits in perfectly with the vintage material.

Perhaps it's the electrifying presence of Lewis and her outstanding piano, but this is some of the purest rock 'n' roll Morrison has recorded since leaving Them some three and a half decades ago. "Let's Talk About Us" (which Jerry Lee Lewis made a hit four decades ago) opens the album in a flat-out rock vein that Morrison hasn't mined in years. While Morrison returns to the slow, ballad tempo he's most comfortable with on songs like "Crazy Arms" and "Why Don't You Love Me," he also kicks it on "Jambalaya" and his own "No Way Pedro."

Adding greatly to the sense of magic on this release is the soulful blending of Morrison's and Lewis' voices. On "Old Black Joe" (another song Jerry Lee made famous way back when), the harmony on their twin lead vocals is absolutely classic. Linda Gail can shout with the best of them, and Morrison is pushed to keep up. And Linda Gail plays as much piano as her more famous brother; decades of touring with him have paid off.

This may be an unexpected set from Morrison, and for most of us Lewis is an unpredicted discovery, but that only makes listening to this album that much more rewarding.