Down the Road is Van in his casual bag, making music for sippiní blush wine on a sunny afternoon. He plays plenty of breezy, bluesy harmonica; a succession of different musicians play the second dominant instrument, the Hammond organ; and there are horns on almost every track, none of which seems to have suffered from extraneous takes or an overabundance of production.
The most interesting guest is Mr. Acker Bilk, a fixture in British traditional jazz since the 1950s; he plays the swinging clarinet solo on "Evening Shadows." The version of "Georgia on My Mind" wonít make you forget Ray Charles or James Brown, but it suits the comfort zone of the disc. And there are a few new songs that are idiosyncratic knockouts. "Talk Is Cheap" is one of Vanís juicy rants against the music business; itís reinforced by "Whatever Happened to P.J. Proby?", which is about a forgotten 1960s British pop star ó "Thereís not much to relate to anymore/Unless you want to be mediocre," Van sings with barely stifled fury. He nods to some other failed 1960s names: Scott Walker, Screaminí Lord Sutch . . . but if heís putting himself in their company (none ever made it in the States), heís slipped back into needless self-pity. Maybe itís all of a piece with "What Makes the Irish Heart Beat," a lonely-expatriatesí national anthem thatíll bring tears and cheers anywhere that Guinness is on tap.