Like Van himself, this tribute collection is soulful, quirky and, when all is said and done, passionate. Morrison apparently felt enough proprietorship over his own work that he coproduced the album with fellow Irish musician and ex-Them bandmate Phil Coulter. The choice of material is anything but predictable—only the most ardent Van fans will recognize most of these songs. There are also some surprising guest artists: Liam Neeson does a stark recitation of "Coney Island" (the one in Northern Ireland, not the famous New York City beach community) against a background of Celtic instruments. Sinead O'Connor delivers a different sort of twist with an emotionally wrenching, '50s-style rendition of "You Make Me Feel So Free." But the album's real standout tracks belong to Cassandra Wilson, who gives a respectful and heartfelt take of "Crazy Love," and Marianne Faithfull, who uses her singular, teetering voice to full effect on Morrison's strange tale of a drag queen, "Madame George."
There's always one clunker in these tribute efforts and, unfortunately, here it's a sticky sweet orchestral version of the priceless "Tupelo Honey." Everything else, though, is golden. (Exile/Polydor)