Van Morrison 

Pay the Devil

After years of hiding under a low-brimmed Stetson and haphazard genre-themed releases, Van Morrison dons an oversize cowboy outfit and turns his gaze to Nashville on Pay the Devil. The result arrives at an odd crossroads -- C&W megahits (Hank Williams' "Your Cheatin' Heart" and Kit Carson's "Big Blue Diamonds" among them) delivered with a soulful signature. While the recipe hints at Ray Charles' 1962 Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, most of the droopy torch songs here are lifeless. Morrison's reading of Bill Anderson's "Once a Day" has the dreary pluck of a Midwestern Holiday Inn, and when Van adds his famed vocal warble to Patsy's "Half as Much," it brings to mind an Irish tenor sitting on a thumb tack. Loyalists will enjoy hearing him mine nuggets of Nashville gold, but Van Morrison -- and these songs themselves -- have seen better days.

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