Album: You’re Driving me Crazy

Grade: B+

Van Morrison has come up with a simple, and surprisingly effective, way to combat possible writer’s block – recycle old songs and standards with a brand new approach.

He’s tried it before with “Duets: Re-Working the Catalogue” in 2015 and is at it again in “You’re Driving Me Crazy.”

This time he’s teamed with Joey DeFrancesco in a supremely relaxed, jazzy workout notable for its easy, almost effortless swing.

This is Morrison when he’s not trying too hard, not looking for new ways to express the emotions captured so brilliantly in his earlier work, simply enjoying the chance to team up with a superb organist and trumpeter to revisit some of his older songs mixed in with a few classics.

They shine on a number of standards, including Cole Porter’s “Miss Otis Regrets,” which Morrison personalizes with some distinctive mumbling. By now his vocal tics are so familiar that listeners can feel him trying to find, and stretch out, a moment of bliss.

He reaches all the way back to “Astral Weeks” for an updated “The Way Young Lovers Do,” one of the most evocative pieces from that landmark album. The composition stands the test of the time, and Morrison’s vocal performance meets the challenge, even if he’s decades past the coming-of-age drama depicted in that song.

He’s taking a number of songs originally performed in more of a rock style and put them in a jazz context. The joy he finds is clear from the opening moments, and there are several occasions when the sometimes grumpy Morrison laughs with pure delight.

Taking away the pressure of coming up with new masterworks to match “Into the Mystic” and “Moondance” seems to have liberated Morrison. And, lest ye forget, this man can sing.


Album: “God Damn Evil”

Grade: A

Damn, this album is good!

The Almighty really must be with Stryper – how else can one explain how they’ve been this good for this long?

With “God Damn Evil,” the Christian quartet has added another book to the gospel of heavy metal, as undaunted and energized as the most on-fire missionaries, even after more than 30 years of bashing away.

“Take It to the Cross” melds thrash onto Stryper’s instantly recognizable melodic metal that made the band darlings of MTV in the ’80s.

At an age where many heavy metal wailers dial it back due to the strains of decades of high notes, singer and guitarist Michael Sweet doubles down on his other worldly vocals. Unfathomable notes drench the chorus of “Lost.”

On “The Valley,” Stryper takes a Bible verse, Psalm 23:4, and makes an entire chorus out of it, singing about not fearing any evil in the shadow of death. (How’s THAT for a songwriting partner?)

They save the best for last on “The Devil Doesn’t Live Here,” which opens with a roar with a Van Halen-esque “Hot for Teacher” drum and guitar jam. This is simply the fastest, hardest song Stryper has ever done, and that’s saying quite a bit.

Associated Press

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