Without breaking new ground on his new album, much of which filled Tuesday’s show at the recently renovated Austin Music Hall, Van Morrison has returned to mixing up blues, jazz and country in single songs, producing a mellow yet grounded amalgam.

Without breaking new ground on his new album, much of which filled Tuesday’s show at the recently renovated Austin Music Hall, Van Morrison has returned to mixing up blues, jazz and country in single songs, producing a mellow yet grounded amalgam. It’s mumbled and full of regret and memories, as likely to have a line – lyrical or melodic – lifted from Duke Ellington or George Jones. New album, “Keep it Simple” on Lost Highway, is not about to shake up the world, but it works in concert as the mortar between recent efforts that were strictly jazz or blues, and Morrison is displaying considerable command of the material vocally.

Seventeen-song concert features only two of Morrison’s best-known tunes: “Moondance,” which provides room for a half-dozen soloists, and “Bright Side of the Road.” Two standards were in the set, an emotionally pure “St. James Infirmary” with blissful trumpet-alto sax duet between Crawford Bell and Morrison, and the Ray Charles smash “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”

Charles’ spirit has loomed heavy over Morrison’s work over the last several albums and it appears Morrison is intent on discarding anything that does not work in this mold. Morrison, like Charles in the 1960s, has strived to reconcile, or at least create a central meeting ground, for blues and country music. The meeting place here is relatively languid , which suits the musicians well; in recent years, he has ostensibly had two bands onstage – one full of horns, the other out of Nashville – and only on a handful of tunes did they work together. There is a dominant color though: Bluesy solos were abundant Tuesday evening.

New album features all Morrison originals, highlighted by the few that tap in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s rock firmament. “Behind the Ritual” intersects his “Into the Mystic” and “Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-o-Dee”; “That’s Entrainment,” the term refers to the effect of rhythm on the mind, is a throwback to his ambling word journeys. “Don’t Go To Nightclubs Anymore” references not seeing his buddy Mose Allison, although the song is through-and-through Allison style.

“School of Hard Knocks” and “How Can a Poor Boy” more strictly adhere to a blues formula; “No Thing” brings in a honky-tonk element. Remarkably, the band and leader appear quite comfortable with all of it.

One of just four U.S. dates before a tour of Europe, Morrison performs Saturday at New York’s United Palace.

Van Morrison

Austin Music Hall, Austin, Tex.; 3,000 capacity; $250 top

Production

Presented by Direct Events and Live Nation. Reviewed March 11, 2008.

Cast

Band: Van Morrison, John Platania, Mick Green, Sarah Jory, Paul Moore, Neal Wilkinson, Robbie Ruggiero, Paul Moran, John Allair, Tony Fitzgibbon, Crawford Bell, Karen Hamill.
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