"You're Driving Me Crazy" With Joey DeFrancesco Is Van's Best In Quite Some Time

Imagine Van and organist Joey Francesco getting together for a late night jam session with some friends and running through a set of Van tunes plus an assortment of standards. You don't have to imagine it because that's what this album sounds like and it's close to how these sessions were produced. Van and Joey clearly had great fun making this record. Van hasn't sang this freely and playfully on record in some time.

You don't have to be told that these tracks were recorded live in the studio. That's obvious from the opening track "Miss Otis regrets". Van's backed throughout the album by DeFrancesco, guitarist Dan Wilson, drummer Michael Ode and tenor saxophonist Troy Roberts. DeFrancesco also contributes overdubbed trumpet on the opening track. The cover of the gatefold jacket shows Joey blowing trumpet at Van close range. Van's covering his ears. The inside gatefold picture is of the two sharing a laugh. When was the last time you saw Van laughing in an album picture?

The Van tunes include "The Way Young Lovers Do", "All Saints Day", "Close Enough For Jazz", "Goldfish Bowl", "Evening Shadows" and "Have I Told You Lately"—all done reminiscent of how Ray Charles might have approached them but of course performed Van-style .

The promo CD's exceptionally fine sonics had me going to the recording venue's website (Studio D in Sausalito, CA) where I found a picture of a Studer A-800 Mk II 24 track analog tape recorder that confirmed what I was hearing, except that in an email, assistant engineer Jason Victorine wrote: " We actually did not use the Studer on this project. We tracked it all to Pro Tools HDX at 24 bit 96k. We used a lot of vintage microphones and outboard gear to get the sound we wanted. It was all tracked and mixed on our analog SSL 9064J console along with some additional outboard preamps."

If I had an criticism of the sonics it was that maybe it was a bit too warm, giving the cymbals a smoother than hard/brassy quality but that's just being picky because otherwise the sonics are "sink your ears into the space" great. The recording has all of the qualities valued by audiophiles: tonal believability, full frequency response, depth, space and all the rest. On a few tracks the drums are splayed across the stage, but let's not get picky!

I don't care how great sound is achieved—analog or digital—and here a great room, vintage microphones an an analog mixing board produced digitally recorded sound you'll love.

While out in San Francisco speaking to the S.F. Audiophile Society, I visited Mill Valley Music (great store!) and picked up the double LP, which the liner notes credit San Francisco-based Paul Stubblebine for vinyl mastering (Paul masters for Reference Recordings, among others). The inner groove area tells a different story: "SST", which stands for "Schallplatten Schneid Technik" the German company that's been cutting lacquers since the late 1960's. Waiting to hear back from Paul to find out what happened here!

In any case comparing the LPs cut from 96/24 files to the CD played back on a dCS Rossini DAC was interesting! The CD was warmer and in my system somewhat muffled compared to the record played back using a van Den Hul Colibri. I'd love to hear the 96/24 file. But given the choice of CD vs. vinyl, give me the vinyl! It wasn't given, so I bought it!

I've previously written that the French pressing plant MPO has way upped its game and this double MPO pressed record is further proof. I'll conclude with one of those terrible "if" clichés": If you've laid off of buying Van Morrison albums for a while (this is his 39th so unless you are a Van fanatic, who can blame you?) I strongly recommend you consider getting this one. It's filled with great "live in the studio" music-making, superbly recorded and Van's not sung better or swung more freely on record in quite some time!

Music Direct Buy It Now

eugeneharrington's picture

I had decided to take a 'rain check' on this one given the flow of recent releases from Van, which I have hardly listened to in detail, as yet. However, with a such a glowing review I think I will have to pick it up from my local store over the next few days! Many people are earnestly waiting for the 20th Anniversary vinyl reissue of 'The Healing Game', which was originally slated for release in 2017. It has been pushed back again and again due to the 'spate' of new Van Morrison albums being issued. The latest reissue release date is the 28th September 2018 but given Van's recent prodigious output, it is not beyond possibility that he will release something new between now and September 2018? Still, it is of some consolation,I guess, that his albums (either on vinyl or CD) never stay in print that long and become rare and valuable. Most of us do not look at it like that but it certainly justifies the purchase of this latest recording, while I await 'The Healing Game' vinyl reissue. Thanks for the review, Mike!

azmoon's picture

..as is Van's previous release titled "Versatile". These 2 albums are so much better than many of his prior releases singing original tunes. Great music on these 2 and they sound perfect on vinyl. At a good price.

cher143's picture

Bottom line:
Digital recordings belong on CDs. Analog recordings belong on vinyl. Period.

Michael Fremer's picture
This sounds better on vinyl than the CD. Can't say how a high rez file might sound.
Mark Evans's picture

After such a glowing review I bought a copy this afternoon from Reckless Records in Chicago. It's everything you said it is.

Michael Fremer's picture
Reading comments like that!
avanti1960's picture

and not a minute of filler. Van at his jazzy best and Joey D laying down some really choice groovy accompaniment while never going over the top. The rest of the band sounds incredible too.
A true gem and instant classic, I cannot tell you how much I love this record. It is dam near perfect...
Thanks for the review and please keep 'em coming!

Mazzy's picture

Just picked this up this minting in Seattle. What a wonderful sound album. Get pressing here too. It's got a great swing loose groove to it. Loving it!!!

I see he's back recording in Sausalito. Way way back in the early 70s I saw a live radio performance of him at the infamous Record Plant in Sausalito. Broadcast on KSAN Radio. What an amazing time. When I worked for ABC records in 77/78 one of my accounts was Caladonia Music, the record store Van bought for his parents to run in San Anselmo just 30 minutes North of the Golden Gate Bridge. Van spent a lot of time back then in Marin. Nice to see him back for a musical visit.

John Atkinson's picture

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Grx8's picture

I love Van, and it makes me happy that HE seems happy by the releases of many albums during the past years.
Bought the vinyl in NY a couple of months ago, from the moment I played it, it sounded great. Now that I read Mike’s review, even better!