Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Reference 160M Amplifier (February 2019)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Livio Cucuzza on Audio Research's Industrial Design (November 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)

RCA 88875-06844-2
Format: CD

Musical Performance ***1/2
Sound Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2


When I saw that Van Morrison was releasing a CD of duets, my heart sank a little. It’s the kind of project that signals a career’s end -- think of Frank Sinatra’s and Ray Charles’s duet recordings. Morrison has subtitled his set Re-working the Catalogue, and again I wondered if it was a holding pattern. Morrison has released something new almost yearly since the early 1990s, all of it workmanlike, some of it inspired, but it’s not as if he’s broken any new ground, as he did with his earlier records. He’s followed the career path of many of the blues singers who inspired him, such as Bobby Bland, by turning out solid records that reaffirm his position as a music icon.

Re-working the Catalogue is a reminder that Morrison has been writing great songs all along. It includes one tune from 1970’s His Band and the Street Choir, “If I Ever Needed Someone,” but most of the remaining songs are from later, lesser-known albums. While fans will know most of them, casual listeners will hear tunes that didn’t always get wide airplay but should have.


“Some Peace of Mind,” with Bobby Womack, comes from 1991’s Hymns to the Silence. Morrison’s crack band is in good form, and he sounds loose and confident. He and Womack play off each other well in an arrangement that’s brisker than the original. Mavis Staples brings gospel authority to “If I Ever Needed Someone,” but Morrison’s own soulful singing also reinforces the tune’s spiritual undercurrent.

Some of the new versions considerably differ from the originals. “Higher than the World,” from Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1983), is much improved here, with a swinging arrangement and some great scatting in the opening by George Benson, who also contributes a fine, bouncy guitar solo. “These Are the Days” has more jazz swagger than it did on Avalon Sunset (1989), and Natalie Cole’s singing is understated and elegant.

For the most part, Morrison has matched his guests to songs that fit them well, and the results are as enjoyable as they look on paper. Mark Knopfler brings deep feeling on guitar and voice to the title song of Irish Heartbeat (1988), and harmonizes perfectly with Morrison. Steve Winwood’s Hammond organ and soulful voice add a different spin to “Fire in the Belly,” from The Healing Game (1997), and Georgie Fame’s turn on “Get On with the Show,” which originally appeared on What’s Wrong with This Picture? (2003), is reminiscent of his time with Morrison in the ’90s.


Two other singers from Morrison’s era, Chris Farlowe and P.J. Proby, carry their blues and soul torches with as much skill and conviction as Morrison and deserve special mention, as does jazz singer Clare Teal. Michael Bublé wins you over with his enthusiasm but sounds lightweight next to Van, especially when his track is followed by a blues scorcher with Taj Mahal, “How Can a Poor Boy?,” a song from Keep It Simple (2008). The only clunker is a version of “Wild Honey” (from Common One, 1980) with Joss Stone, who seems incapable of singing a line without over-souling it to cinders.

The most surprising thing about Duets is how much fun the notoriously cranky Morrison seems to be having. He sings with an ease and an unforced power he hasn’t displayed in years, as if he’s realized he’s long past having to prove anything. Don Was co-produced with Morrison, and Bob Rock mixed. The sound is very clean and detailed, but I would have preferred more space between instruments.

Duets: Re-working the Catalogue doesn’t signal a new direction for Van Morrison, but fans will enjoy hearing him having a good time.

. . . Joseph Taylor