VAN MORRISON DEFERS TO BLUESMAN IN WEST COAST TOUR

* Van Morrison showed off his eccentric side at a concert this month in Los Angeles, the first in a two-week tour of West Coast venues to promote his new blues-oriented album, ``Too Long in Exile.'' Although the singer's voice was as powerful and soul-stirring as ever, fans didn't get to hear enough of it.

Morrison led his band in a sort of blues revue, featuring several guest artists, including such well-known bluesmen as Junior Wells (who had just released an album after a long hiatus), Jimmy Witherspoon, and electric-violinist Shankar, who recently toured with Peter Gabriel.

The attempt was to turn the evening into a rhythm-and-blues jam session, but the results were uneven at best - too much of the music seemed unfocused and barely rehearsed.

And although it was a pleasure to hear an artist like Junior Wells, he had already appeared as the opening act. A better recruit would have been John Lee Hooker, who collaborated with Morrison on ``Gloria'' on the new album.

Morrison even handed off some of his best material, like ``Crazy Love'' and ``Tupelo Honey,'' to a singer named Brian Kennedy, a truly annoying performer whose vocal mannerisms and affected chicken-like dancing would seem to put him more at home on ``American Bandstand.''

When Morrison did sing his own songs, he gave them perfunctory readings, and he concentrated more on his up-tempo material than his more majestic music, robbing the evening of the intensity that has been his trademark.

Of course, no evening spent listening to Morrison, one of the truly great singers of our time, is wasted.

The flexibility of his voice was demonstrated in the relatively few moments when he allowed it to be showcased. He also displayed a rare playfulness onstage (even inserting a bit of ``My Funny Valentine'' into ``Moondance''), perhaps because he didn't feel as much responsibility to carry the show. But for the music's sake, one couldn't help wishing that the singer had been a little less generous to his guests.

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