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Van Morrison
Pay The Devil
Lost Highway Records

For those who dig honky-tonks and Ray Charles, Van Morrison's latest, Pay the Devil should be right up your alley. A collection of fifteen country songs (twelve covers, plus three Morrison originals), Pay the Devil is filled with floating steel guitar and reeling fiddles, with tales of lost love and life's disappointments - all anchored by Morrison's potent, soulful vocals. Equally inspired by George Jones' old school country, Ray Charles' country-blues, and Conway Twitty's countrypolitan, Pay the Devil is an album of rollicking honky-tonk soul for the 21st century.

Morrison turns the oft-recorded classic, "Half As Much," into a soulful pop-country mosey, filled with alternating, understated pedal steel and fiddles over playful brush drums. Equally understated and playful are Morrison's vocals, which possess both a deep vibrato and a whiskey-soaked wail. Morrison covers George Jones' "Things Have Gone To Pieces" equally adeptly, adding his mournful vocals to modest upright bass, fiddle, and piano accompaniment. Elsewhere, he covers songs from such luminaries as Webb Pierce, Louis Armstrong, Hank Thompson, and Connie Smith. The true gem of Pay the Devil, however, is Morrison's cover of Rodney Crowell's "Till I Gain Control Again." A six-minute lament about the choices we face in life and the need for absolution, "'Til I Gain Control Again" features tender acoustic guitar, winding dobro, and dreamy, muted strings. Here, Morrison's voice is at once somber and keening as he sings the refrain, "Out on the road that lies before me now/There are some turns where I will spin/I only hope that you can hold me now/Until I gain control again."

Morrison's own compositions compliment the covers without detracting from the old-school-meets-modern-country feel. "Playhouse" is a bluesy Delta boogie featuring spirited slide guitar, rollicking dobro, and Luther Perkins-inspired dueling lead guitars, while "This Has Got to Stop" is an upright bass-driven affair with a moseying rhythm and twin fiddle flourishes. Both songs deal lyrically with love affairs tainted by infidelity and excess. However, the most outstanding original song on Pay the Devil is the title track, a George Jones-esque country ballad about the downside of fame. "It used to be my life/Now it's become my story/I'm here beside this highway/With those blues," Morrison croons over rhythmic fiddles and soaring pedal steel.

Pay the Devil finds Van Morrison exploring traditional country themes with modern instrumentation, making an album that is at once classic and modern.

-Tracy M. Rogers

Track List:
1. There Stands The Glass
2. Half As Much
3. Things Have Gone to Pieces
4. Big Blue Diamonds
5. Playhouse
6. Your Cheatin' Heart
7. Don't You Make Me High
8. My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
9. Back Street Affair
10. Pay The Devil
11. What Am I Living For
12. This Has Got To Stop
13. Once A Day
14. More And More
15. 'Til I Gain Control Again

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