The ambling beat, florid pedal steel and plaintive fiddle fueling “There Stands The Glass,” the opening track of Irish vocalist Van Morrison’s latest solo effort, Pay The Devil, may catch some off guard, but longtime Morrison aficionados shouldn’t be surprised—the wild-eyed troubadour has long delighted in fusing everything from blues to jazz to rock, even country. A full-blooded country and western sojourn, Pay the Devil traffics in the style of songwriting popularized by George Jones and Hank Williams—a handful of Morrison originals are sprinkled in among the covers of such chestnuts as “Half as Much” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” Morrison’s distinct vocals inject new life into these well-worn works, but an inescapable air of hurry clouds this obvious labor of love. Pay the Devil is a well-intentioned homage to a brand of music now seemingly alien to those in Nashville and elsewhere, but so much of the album seems rushed or tossed off, particularly when it comes to Morrison’s vocal delivery on tracks like “Big Blue Diamonds” or “Your Cheatin’ Heart”; the passion’s there, but technically, the overall effect is that of goofing around in the studio before rolling tape for real. Ragged edges notwithstanding, Pay the Devil doesn’t boast enough for Morrison neophytes to even worry about picking this disc up—those diehard Van completists will want to spin the album, but probably won’t reach for it again after one time through. Competent but unremarkable—that’s the devil of this disc.
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