Pay the Devil

( 4 )

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - David Sprague
Van Morrison has donned enough guises over the years -- from bare-knuckled blues brawler to monastery-bound spiritual spelunker -- that it's no longer surprising to find him diving into previously uncharted sonic waters. His predictably unpredictable behavior doesn't, however, put a damper on the thrill he's capable of generating when he enters the zone that he inhabits throughout Pay the Devil, his first full-force foray into old-school country music. The disc, dominated by classic tracks that represent both Nashville tradition and dust-bowl incursion, makes the most of Morrison's inherently plaintive voice, which is put to particularly good use on a weary version of ...
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USA 2006 CD VG+/VG+ 15 great tracks.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - David Sprague
Van Morrison has donned enough guises over the years -- from bare-knuckled blues brawler to monastery-bound spiritual spelunker -- that it's no longer surprising to find him diving into previously uncharted sonic waters. His predictably unpredictable behavior doesn't, however, put a damper on the thrill he's capable of generating when he enters the zone that he inhabits throughout Pay the Devil, his first full-force foray into old-school country music. The disc, dominated by classic tracks that represent both Nashville tradition and dust-bowl incursion, makes the most of Morrison's inherently plaintive voice, which is put to particularly good use on a weary version of Webb Pierce's edge-of-delirium weeper "There Stands the Glass." Van turns in a suitably shaky take on Rodney Crowell's "'Til I Gain Control Again," a decades-newer composition that echoes the Pierce standard, proving that emotions aren't affected by the passage of time. Most of Pay the Devil is given over to explorations of life's darker corners -- an appropriate choice, since most of country's best music from the '40s through the early '70s explored those regions -- and Morrison sounds like he knows every inch of that territory, rendering his version of "Things Have Gone to Pieces" a worthy bookend for the rendition that George Jones made famous. A bit of editing would have intensified the effect -- the world doesn't really need another version of "Your Cheatin' Heart" -- as would a few more originals Morrison deals out three here, highlighted by the slinky "Playhouse," which Owen Bradley would no doubt have loved. Even with those quibbles, Pay the Devil offers ample evidence that Van Morrison is still at the top of his game as a singer, an interpreter, and a soul shaman.
All Music Guide - Thom Jurek
Pay the Devil, an album-long foray into country music, shouldn't come as a surprise to Van Morrison fans. It's a logical extension of his love affair with American music. Certainly blues, R&B, soul, and jazz have been at the forefront, but one can go all the way back to the Bang years and find "Joe Harper Saturday Morning," or songs on Tupelo Honey that touch country. More recently, You Win Again, with Linda Gail Lewis, offered two Hank Williams tunes and "Crazy Arms." The Skiffle Sessions with Lonnie Donegan offered traditional Southern tunes including Jimmie Rodgers' "Mule Skinner Blues." Morrison's lyrics have also referenced country music blatantly. Pay the Devil comes from direct sources of inspiration: his father's skiffle band and Ray Charles' historic forays into country on the two volumes of Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music in 1962. The evidence lies in three cuts on this disc, all of which Charles recorded: Curley Williams' "Half as Much," Art Harris and Fred Jay's "What Am I Livin' For," and Hank Williams' "Your Cheatin' Heart." Morrison's a cagey one: his own mercurial versions of these nuggets are more traditional than those of Charles, yet are steeped in similar production styles that offer a clear nod to the late artist. While there are no horns on Pay the Devil, the layers of strings on top of "fiddles" and honky tonk pianos -- as well as earlier pedal steel styles -- are giveaways. And then there is the voice. Like Charles, Morrison is a soul singer no matter what he sings and he digs into these tomes with fire and the uncommon sweetness of tone and limited timbre that Charles did. But Morrison re-creates these tunes in his own image too. Recorded in Belfast with his own band, Pay the Devil flows seamlessly from start to finish over 15 cuts. It opens with a killer read of "There Stands the Glass," which is brave considering it's synonymous with Webb Pierce one of two here -- the other is "More and More". It's drenched in pedal steel, electric guitar, and a pair of basses. The fiddle floats just above the upright piano and a swell of strings in the bridge. It drips with a swaggering loneliness and gets the full weepy treatment with Geraint Watkins' piano solo. "Things Have Gone to Pieces," written by Leon Payne, is full of wasted self-pity and honky tonk desolation. Once more it's a daring move given how closely associated the song is with George Jones. In the grain of his lionhearted voice, Morrison tears it back to its essence as a country-blues song. Morrison outdoes himself on Clarence Williams' "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It," turning it into a rockabilly shuffle. Billy Wallace's "Back Street Affair" is full of barroom soul. Bill Anderson's "Once a Day" is given the full '60s countrypolitain treatment here, with strings and a full backing chorus that could almost be the Anita Kerr Singers. "What Am I Living For" is a tune closely associated with Conway Twitty in his prime. Morrison's version touches on the original but brings it home to Belfast. In addition to the classics, there are three originals here as well. There's the rollicking hillbilly blues of "Playhouse" that growl like the young Conway Twitty and Johnny Horton did. Then comes the misleading title track. Unable to let his discontent stay out of his records, Morrison once again assails those who would pigeonhole his music, to the tune of a laid-back, shuffling country stroll. "This Has Got to Stop" is the finest of the three. It's proof that Morrison can write a solid, traditional honky tonk song worthy of a Jones, or a Don Gibson. His vocal digs into the lyrics and sets it in the blanket of the deceptively loose barroom-styled accompaniment. The set closes with a deeply emotional read of Rodney Crowell's "Till I Gain Control Again." Paul Godden's lonesome dobro is the engine that guides it emotionally. Bob Loveday's violins add painterly touches to the Watkins piano in the foreground and the guitars fill the rest. Godden's pedal steel pleads the country tradition, but Morrison's singing is so full of sadness, ache, and regret that it actually closes the gap between it and soul music as the record whispers to a shimmering, whispering close. Pay the Devil is at the crossroads of country, blues, and soul. In his voice is the authority to bring them together. No matter how restless and inconsistent he can be because of his obsession with perfection, Morrison is capable of being inspired enough to let his muse guide him toward something approaching greatness. Pay the Devil is proof .
Entertainment Weekly - David Browne
The record goes down as easy as a shot of fine whiskey. (B+)

The record goes down as easy as a shot of fine whiskey. (B+)
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 3/7/2006
  • Label: Lost Highway
  • UPC: 602498762905
  • Catalog Number: 000596802

Album Credits

Performance Credits
Van Morrison Primary Artist, Acoustic Guitar, Vocals
Geraint Watkins Piano
Mick Green Guitar
Bobby Irwin Drums
Ian Jennings Double Bass, Acoustic Bass
Bob Loveday Violin
Paul Riley Electric Bass
Nicky Scott Electric Bass
Fiachra Trench Strings, Background Vocals
Aine Whelan Background Vocals
Karen Hamill Background Vocals
Crawford Bell Background Vocals
Olwin Bell Background Vocals
Johnny Scott Guitar, Background Vocals
Paul Godden Dobro, Guitar, Steel Guitar, Weissenborn
Leon McCrum Background Vocals
Johnny Scott Guitar
Cavin Wright Strings
Technical Credits
Bill Anderson Composer
Rodney Crowell Composer
Art Harris Composer
Ken Harris Composer
Leon Payne Composer
Van Morrison Composer, Producer, Audio Production
Webb Pierce Composer
Walter Samuel Engineer
Fiachra Trench String Arrangements
Clarence Williams Composer
Gavyn Wright String Section Leader
Merle Kilgore Composer
Fred Jay Composer
Russ Hull Composer
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    He has it all

    The Country Music Channel had video of 4 of these songs. Seeing helped appreciate the excellence of his musicians and tne mood of the old time songs. While "My bucket has a whole in it" was not one of them, it makes the CD that much more fun. Morrison deserves to sing anything he likes! He and his band put it together to charm us all.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    Van goes to the country

    I've been really surprised by Van's incursion in country territories, but not at all disappointed. Country music fits surpringly well to Van's voice and he keeps in great form.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    A Great Country Album

    I feel a little sorry for Van Fans who believe this album is a rip-off. Way back when, I bought Them's first album when it was originally released and have been a fan of Van since then. He backslid a few times during the 80's and 90's, but is one artist who has easily stood the test of time with quite a few "classic" albums since the 60's. Since I bought Pay The Devil, I have gone back, with a critical eye, to my Van collection (about 25 or so albums)and sincerely believe this new one is bound for classic status (albeit with a smattering of new, more country oriented, fans). Pay The Devil is a collection of well known, and in some cases, well worn country songs from the 50's or thereabouts along with a brace of Van originals which add a bluesy element to the mix. In nearly every case, these songs are presented with a fresh and intriguing face. Superby arranged, sung and played, these gems soak into your consciousness and get you feeling for the repeat button. However, if you are irreversibly turned off by country music, it may best if you wait until his next album. On the other hand, if you would like to explore the roots of much of today's rock and roll and neo-traditional country music, this would be an excellent "toe in the water". It may then lead to a journey which leads to the heart of American country and roots music: Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Ray Price, Lefty Fizzell and so on. Ample reward for listening closely to Van's newie.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    Listen before you buy

    This CD is like nothing Morrison has ever done before. Frankly, I wish I had listened before I bought it. It comes across as an attempt to get money out of long time fans. I didn't think to much of his last CD either, but this one really sucks.

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