|by Blair Fraipont|
|Artist: Van Morrison Album: Magic Time Label: Geffen/Exile/Polydor
Van Morrison's record, Magic Time sounds like a remarkable comeback record. The only problem is that Van has never gone away, never allowed one to deem any of his work as a comeback or return to form. Like a fine wine, Van produces new music typically once a year. Similarly, the finished results are usually a brilliant success, though every few years there will be the occasional mishap or clunker. Overall, his high stature and prolific nature match only a few living artists (Neil Young comes to mind) whose careers commenced in the 60s.
Magic Time continues to capture the fire of the earthy R&B textures the Van rekindled in the early 90s that now have even more of a world weary claim. The record also adheres to Morrisson's amalgam of soul, balladry, folk, jazz and rock and roll. All of these sounds are blended in a wonderful clear mix that allow the genres to complete Van's artistic vision and talent.
Morrison utilizes imagery and moods that permeate not only on Magic Time but those that have coursed through his entire body of work. Images such as Gypsies, indian summers, loneliness, fields and forests, church bells chiming, lions, are all present here and have a subtle beauty in coloring his music.
The highlights include the soulful "Celtic New Year," the rollicking, "Keep Mediocrity at Bay," the world weariness of "Just Like Greta" and the sheer magic of "The Lion This Time" which is Van's best song in a decade, period. Overall, you won't be disappointed with Van or with his performance on Magic Time.
Artist: Antony and the Johnsons Album: I am a bird now Label: Secretly Canadian
There is a serious problem with the music industry right now. A problem of detrimental proportions. Antony and the Johnsons are still relatively unknown and underexposed. This travesty is realized once you listen to Antony's second record, I am a bird now. Anthony's voice is smoky and soulful, evoking both Bryan Ferry and Nina Simone simultaneously. He harbors such an unbelievable range from sorrow up to joy; many times these emotions are wrapped together to create weighty and explosive performances.
"Hope There's Someone" presents us with Antony issuing a prayer in genuflection. Halfway through the song, piano chords pick up their tempo and ascend over and over as if trying to send off this gospel-tinged beauty into the heavens. This sets the tone for the album as the whole is dedicated to the desperation and hope for love, understanding, personal freedom of mind and body and individuality of the spirit.
This desperation is captured hauntingly on the cover as it features Andy Warhol superstar Candy Darling on her deathbed. A quick glance may display an eloquent star resting in bed surrounded by flowers. At further inspection the truth is revealed. This is in fact the sublime magic of I am a bird now: that underneath these breathtaking songs there is darker substance lurking. The inner album art which includes children's letters to their parents from a medical journal on herma-phodism and sex reassignment in 1966 points the listener to what may lie beneath the surface.
Likely so, "For Today I am a Boy" has Antony singing, "one day I'll grow up and be a beautiful woman...but for today I am a boy!" Like the album opener, this song begins quite gently and builds and grows with intensity. This intensity is ubiquitous and is carefully and thoughtfully dispersed throughout the record.
Rufus Wainwright takes a solo on the short but delicate, "What Can I do?" Boy George duets with Antony on the dedication, "You are my sister." Lou Reed recites a poem at the beginning of "Fistful of Love" then provides searing guitar feedback that burns throughout the rising exaltation and horns heard therein. Luckily none of these appearances smudge any of the beauty that Antony and the Johnsons have created here.
In "Bird Guhl," the final song on the album, Antony sings, "I'm gonna be born into soon the sky, 'cause I'm a bird girl and the bird girls go to heaven." This evokes the imagery in which an open window at the hour of death provides the passing soul an exit from the world of the living to the spirit world. Acting as a conduit, the bird carries the soul up into the sky; coincidentally, I am a bird now transports the listener to a musical Valhalla.
Blair Fraipont may be reached at email@example.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 7 June 17, 2005