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Van Morrison Rides Back Into The Mystic With 'Transformation'

Van Morrison's 37th studio album, <em>Roll With The Punches</em>, comes out Sept. 22.
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Van Morrison's 37th studio album, Roll With The Punches, comes out Sept. 22.

As with the best Van Morrison songs, "Transformation" billows out from its oft-repeated refrain. The lead single off Morrison's upcoming Roll With The Punches (out Sept. 22) consists largely of the 71-year-old Irish singer belting "gonna be a transformation" over a triumphant soul progression. But if there's been a transformation in Morrison over his long career, it isn't evident here. This is a soaring bit of classic Morrison roots-soul — and his best outing in recent years.

This song has some of the wily, indulgent excess of Morrison's most influential work, with more organic production than much of his modern output that's far better suited to his loose vocal style.

Morrison is an artist who's never been afraid of risking the ridiculous in pursuit of the transcendent. For proof, see: the line "Yeah when there's no more words to say about love I go, NNGEEEEEEEEEE" at the end of "You Know What They're Writing About," the various growls on the 11-minute "Listen To The Lion," the barn-burning cover of "Bein' Green" live at the Rainbow and various album covers including — but not limited to — Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart and A Sense of Wonder.

Here, that tendency takes the form of a moving climax, complete with some vintage scatting. The moments that simultaneously elicit a laugh at his excess and a swell of feeling at his conviction — these are his specialty. "Transformation" brings us there once again. This is yet another testament to the transportive power of music and the changing force of a righteous love. That's a note he's sounded before, often over and over again at the end of a song, until the words loose their meaning and the inarticulate meaning comes clear.

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