Poetic Champions Compose
Mercury 832 585-2
Review by Scott Thomas:
Nonetheless, the lead-off instrumental "Spanish Steps" presents Morrison in a risk-taking mode. With his own alto sax in the role of lead instrument, Van makes up in passion what he lacks in virtuosity and offers melodic lines that are highly imagistic. (The same can be said of "Celtic Excavation" and "Allow Me," two instrumentals which frame the album at its middle and end respectively.) Morrison is assisted by Neil Drinkwater's graceful acoustic piano work and Fiachra Trench's string arrangements. In Poetic Champions Compose, where the listener is treated to a soundscape that is more lush and full-bodied than what was created for the preceding albums, Drinkwater and Trench play a crucial role. Trench's string arrangements are more pop-oriented than Jeff Labes' sinewy, jazz-tinged arrangements for "Tir Na Nog" (from No Guru) and "Summertime in England" (from Common One)."The Mystery," the album's first vocal track, benefits greatly from this new, rich texture and "Queen of the Slipstream," a veritable candy store of sweet sounds, is a guilty delight. Trench's woodwind arrangements also lend resonance to Morrison's brooding cover of the spiritual "Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child."
Pressing onward, "I Forgot that Love Existed" demonstrates Van's talent for distilling a desire as old as Ancient Greece into a deceptively simple lyric: "If my heart could do my thinking / And my head begin to feel..." "Someone like You" is an attractive pop ballad while "Did Ye Get Healed?" is Morrison's catchiest track since "Bright Side of the Road" with his alto shooting a spray of notes through an instantly memorable horn riff over a spirited tempo. The performance answers the question raised in the title with an emphatic Yes!
Though not devoid of filler ("Give Me My Rapture is a slab of pseudo-gospel that probably took Morrison all of two minutes to write), Poetic Champions Compose is a very strong album indeed. Taken as a whole, it flows with a kind of effortless grace and sings with a tone of quiet celebration.