Van Morrison, The Prophet Speaks (Caroline International) ****

THE prophet may speak, but he no longer smokes. Of course, with Van, it’s hard to tell if he is the character in the title track, but we do know that he has given up smoking.

So much did Van appear to like the fags that the cover of Wavelength, his tenth album from 1978, shows him in mid-puff. But the 73-year-old singer has quit to preserve his voice, an instrument that is in fine fettle on what is, remarkably, his 40th studio album.

The cover suggests playfulness, with Van putting his fingers to his lips to silence the ventriloquist’s dummy on his lap: who is the prophet and who the dummy?

Van has been a busy man, releasing four albums in not much over a year, all showcasing his love of vocal jazz and R&B. There are 14 tracks here and not a dull note on a collection that sings, swings and warms the soul. The jazz singing is perfectly phrased on eight jazz and blues classics, with six new songs added to the lively mix.

The classics include Dimples by John Lee Hooker, Laughin’ And Clownin’ by Sam Cooke and Gotta Get You Off My Mind by Solomon Burke. The playing from Joey DeFrancesco’s band is just tremendous, especially on Worried Blues/Rollin’ And Tumblin’, where the organ notes seem to levitate with joy.

It wouldn’t be a Van Morrison album without a self-reflection song too far, in this case the self-explanatory Ain’t Gonna Moan No More: good song, but we’ve heard Van sing that tune before.

Spirit Will Provide and the closing track take one step away from jazz, adding a spiritual note to an album that gives a rocket boost to your mood. A fantastic fortieth.

Spencer Taylor