For ISB Fans
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Music of the Week — March 11, 2007

Van Morrison: Common One

The reader who signs himself “Jack” quotes—strikingly in the context—a lyric from this album in a comment on this month-old thread, prompting me to avail myself of it as another Music of the Week entry which I can write about without listening to again. Jack shortens the line a bit: where he has “It ain’t why why why, it just is,” there are actually a good many more “why”s, maybe a dozen or so. Not, in print, impressive, but very effective when you hear it sung. I could not begin to count the number of times I’ve thought of it when considering the sheer strangeness of life.

This is a neglected and under-rated album. After the brilliant records of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Morrison’s work had tended toward the decent but unexciting, and I for one had pretty low expectations for this album when it appeared in 1980. I listened to it a few times, wasn’t much taken with it, and put it aside, except that the insistent “why why why why…” kept recurring to me.

It was only a couple of years ago that something moved me to take it out again, copying the lp onto cd, listening to it on my daily commute a number of times over several weeks, and revising my opinion of it upward by quite a bit. On the surface it’s much less striking, less tuneful, less immediately engaging than some of Morrison’s acknowledged masterpieces, but it has a new combination of serenity, depth, and swing. It has a sort of pastoral jazzy feel—the AMG review mentions Miles Davis’s In A Silent Way but parts of it, especially the opener, “Haunts of Ancient Peace,” make me think of a Sketches of Spain with a British Isles vibe. There’s proof that he hasn’t lost his rock touch in “Satisfied,” which has one of the most irresistible grooves you’re likely to come across. Common One can get under your skin if you give it a chance. Give it a chance.



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