Van Morrison probably chose to give a pair of skiffle concerts in November, 1998 not because he was nostalgic, but because he has genuine love for this music. At least, that's the impression The Skiffle Sessions gives. It's a cheerfully old-fashioned yet curiously fresh album. By skipping "Rock Island Line," the style's best-known tune, and emphasizing the music's foundation in American folk, blues, and jazz, they wind up revitalizing skiffle while paying homage to it. Yes, this may be corny at times, yet it's a clever, diverse record. They delve into blues, letting Barber have a Dixieland trombone solo on "Frankie and Johnny," invite Dr. John to play some New Orleans on "Goin' Home" and "Good Morning Blues," haul out Jimmie Rodgers' "Muleskinner Blues" and Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene," paying tribute to both country and folk. Only "Don't You Rock Me Daddio" fits the clichés of skiffle, and here it's only one side of a rich, generous collection of roots music. Some might say that this multifaceted approach to skiffle is revisionism, but it isn't; skiffle itself was a hybrid, drawing from all sorts of American roots music but given an endearing twist by idealist British musicians, who loved the American myth as much as the music. The Skiffle Sessions captures this love of myth and music, while being a hell of a good listen. Morrison's career has been idiosyncratic and unpredictable, but nothing has been quite as surprising as this. Really, there's no reason why a skiffle album released in 2000 should be as irresistible as this, but Morrison, Donegan, and Barber bring such heart and love to this music that it's hard not to be charmed.
The Skiffle Sessions: Live in Belfast 1998
Van Morrison / Lonnie Donegan / Chris Barber
The Skiffle Sessions: Live in Belfast 1998 Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine