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Van Morrison’s vocal is an expressive instrument which synthesises his Irish roots with the R&B and jazz that he grew up hearing in Belfast. His exploration of Celtic Soul has effectively fuelled his entire career, as he veered between commercial pop and more uncompromising efforts. Even if his solo career can sometimes feel obstinate and inconsistent, his body of work is uniquely his own, and he should be remembered as a giant of his era

Van Morrison’s travails with the music industry have punctuated the majority of his half-century-long career in music. Following his departure from Warner Bros. Records in 1983, the legendary singer from Belfast, Sony’s Legacy Recordings acquired the grand majority of his catalog, making 33 records available digitally.

I’m constantly listening to Van Morrison’s back catalouge while I’ve left gaps at this stage, I’m confident at this stage these are among my favourite essential Van Morrison albums that you should own .

Beautiful Vision

Beautiful Vision (1982):
Beautiful Vision is one of Van Morrison’s most settled, comfortable albums, like a calmer take on the Into The Music sound, and it’s relatively insular with its low key explorations of spirituality and Irish heritage. Even if he’s sometimes treading water musically, there are plenty of great songs here, and it’s one of his more consistent, most substantial records, even if it’s less adventurous and less universal than his earlier work.

Unlike many of his peers from the sixties and seventies, Van Morrison’s eighties work is full of felicity and freshness and this album stands up well beside Veedon Fleece, St Dominic’s Preview, Moondance and Into the Music. Certainly this album, along with Poetic Champions Compose, No Guru, the still miraculous Irish Heartbeat and much of Avalon Sunset, bubble over with VM’s own peculiar brand of realism – making spirituality accessible to the masses while making wonderful horn arrangements accessible to anyone with ears to hear. So it is refreshingly perverse, in a way, to see how he has allowed his catalogue to fall into disrepair, while everyone else, dead or alive, creates archives and re-releases their entire oeuvre in mono and massive boxsets.

Others here have gone into detail about Vanlose Stairway, and Cleaning Windows , all great songs – pop songs, too, in their way – as are Celtic Ray, She Gives Me Religion and the indecently joyous Dweller on the Threshold. Van Morrison, at times like these, convinces you of the higher power he has sung about so frequently. Apart from the overly prominent snare and the slightly thin vocals, the old devil of eighties production stays away from this record the discernible dwindling of inspiration in the last quarter of the album, after Vanlose Stairway. It is, at any rate, almost a relief when the intensity diminishes and the music seems to drift to a close. Few singers have been so adept at getting their band to sound vital and spontaneous in the studio as well as on stage. Beautiful Vision has stayed the course – it’s as true now as it was then.

Veedon Fleece

Veedon Fleece (1974)
Veedon Fleece was the last album from Van Morrison’s initial run of solo records; subsequently he went into semi-retirement for three years, only emerging to appear in The Band’s “The Last Waltz”. In some respects, it’s almost the completion of the circle begun with Astral Weeks; returning to Ireland at the end of his marriage, Veedon Fleece is more steeped in acoustic mysticism than any of his releases since Astral Weeks, and it’s similarly loose in feel. It’s also more noticeably more Irish than anything he’d released previously; there’s little R&B here, using more folk-oriented, acoustic instrumentation, and the lyrics reference William Blake and figures from Irish mythology. This was Van’s 8th album from 1974 was recorded shortly after a divorce . Any album before this break is there to be savored and Veedon Fleece is no exception. Closest in style to Astral Weeks it was written in Ireland on a three week holiday and recorded quickly afterwards. It’s a stripped down sound with acoustic guitar, flute and piano dominant. Stream of consciousness lyrics are overlaid across what can broadly be described as pastoral music, none more than on closer Country Fair. Opener Fair Play is gloriou,sly laconic, a stone wall classic to open the album and sets the tone for what is to follow.

Reminiscent of Astral Weeks in its instrumentation, flow and questing spirit, Veedon Fleece is one of his greatest works. Any selection from the album is bound to be representative rather than definitive, but this brooding, contemplative march is a highlight, inspired by Morrison’s visit to the Wicklow town of Arklow, his head “full of poetry”. James Rothermel’s high, lyrical recorder soars over “God’s green land”, and when the strings swoop in at the start of the third verse, the force of the music perfectly conveys the gravitas of Morrison’s “soul-cleansing” excursion.

Lyrically this is such a densely packed whole you could be listening repeatedly and get something new every time.Original Side 1 closer You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push The River is a prime example of this. At almost nine minutes it’s a tour de force full of the sort of mysticism Van is famous for, backed up with lovely strings and woodwind. Original Side 2 opener Bulbs is the most upbeat the album gets and was chosen as an unrepresentative single, with echoes of the style heard on Tupelo Honey. A simply gorgeous masterwork that brings all the threads of Morrison’s career to that point to a natural conclusion.

Astral Weeks

Astral Weeks (1968)
Astral Weeks is a fascinating record; it sounds different from anyone Van Morrison or anyone else has created, and for adventurous music listeners it’s worth picking up for that reason alone. Although Morrison arguably balanced jazzy exploration with more accessible work on subsequent albums like St. Dominic’s Preview and Veedon Fleece, Astral Weeks is his most extreme statement which alone makes it essential as a unique effort in the canon of popular music.

Van Morrison’s seminal 1968 solo album Astral Weeks—the effort that firmly put his solo career on the music map this song “Sweet Thing” exudes hopefulness looking forward, with a unique blend of wishful thinking and whimsical romanticism. It may be the defining song of the album itself,

Morrison’s second studio album as a solo artist has long been considered one of the most important recordings in pop lore, even though it took Van himself 40 years since its initial release to perform the songs live in concert. And at nearly 10-minutes-long, this alleged tale about a transvestite socialite is the stirring nucleus of Astral Weeks’s refined and definitive multi-genre bisque that remains one of the most magnificent and visionary works recorded for a major record label. Check out the vibraphone heavy alternate take on the upcoming Astral Weeks expanded edition it is a revelation.

Moondance

Moondance (1970)
Astral Weeks showcased the stream-of-consciousness, improvisational side of Van Morrison’s music, Moondance is based around punchy R&B and concise pop songs. Side one is packed with five outstanding compositions; the title track, where Van plays Sinatra, is the most well known, but ‘Crazy Love’ is pretty, ‘Caravan’ is jaunty, ‘Into The Mystic’ is lovely and esoteric, while ‘And It Stoned Me’ is all of the above.

Morrison followed the loose abstractions of Astral Weeks with the precise opposite – a collection of tight, honed, radio-friendly blue-eyed soul made with the crack band of local musicians he had assembled near his home in Woodstock. The 10 tracks on Moondance offer up an embarrassment of riches, but the killer cut is this mysterious tale of being “born before the wind, oh so younger than the sun”, and sailing the “bonny boat” into some sublime metaphysical harbour. Pinned down by Morrison’s rattling acoustic rhythm guitar, John Klingberg’s propulsive bass, and the totemic foghorn, Into the Mystic provides the spiritual heft on an album more concerned with transmission than transcendence.

“Moondance” is undoubtedly Van Morrison’s finest hour, a masterpiece that easily ranks amongst the Top 100 albums of all time. For me, it’s his only album that gets a five star rating, unless there is some hidden gem that I have not yet heard. His other albums generally have a few great tracks interspersed with somewhat average material, but this one is consistently great throughout; musically sublime and well produced. Standout tracks are “Crazy Love”, “Caravan” and the title track, but in truth all tracks on here are excellent.

”’Into the Mystic’ is the heart of Moondance,” Lester Bangs once wrote about the musical centerpiece. There is a certain warmth to Van Morrison’s solo music that seems to get to the heart of everything we hold dear in jazz, folk and soul idioms simultaneously. With “Mystic,” he does so in one sprawling, romantic ballad that captures a message of love more effectively than anything in his half-century career. There is no denying the impact “Mystic” has had on generations of gypsy souls rocked by its soothing sway.

By and large Van Morrison is more renowned for his mastery of the studio than the stage, though he is equally adept in both cases. But if there is one song from the Morrison songbook specifically designed to burn down a concert hall, its the fourth song on Moondance, as dutifully indicated during Van’s spin through his soulful hit on Thanksgiving Day 1976 as part of The Band’s farewell concert film The Last Waltz. It’s too bad these guys never got together up at Big Pink back when. That would have been a seriously classic album.

Saint Dominic’s Preview (1972)
Morrison’s failing marriage informs his music on Saint Dominic’s Preview. The love songs of the “domestic trilogy” are replaced with more eclectic and ambitious material. Saint Dominic’s Preview is perhaps the quintessential album of Van Morrison’s early career, covering both punchy R&B pop craft like the opening ‘Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile)’ and artier impulses like the ten minute semi-improvisations that close each side of the original LP. There’s definitely a lot of soul in the delivery of Van Morrison, and he stated that ’50s soul singer Jackie Wilson was a key influence in developing his style. So when the opportunity arose to pay tribute to one of his heroes, Van took it. The upbeat ditty was inspired by a line in Wilson’s song ‘Reet Petite’ and speaks to the joy and elation one can get from listening to their favorite song. The track has been covered several times over the years, with Dexys Midnight Runners having the most success with their version.

No wonder he himself has said he`s not a rock singer. No, he`s closer to Ray Charles
or Otis, or one of those old blues shouters like Big Joe Turner or Jimmy Rushing. This is soulful, “spiritual” singing that takes no prisoners. It is what they sometimes call righteous.
Listen To The Lion is a rumbling, grumbling ruminative extemporisation on a theme, a sobering eleven-minute meditation, a rant, a kind of rap.

One of the most underrated albums from Morrison’s early ‘70s days is his jazzy, pastoral sixth LP St. Dominic’s Preview. But the centerpiece of this 1972 gem is actually a holdover track from Tupelo Honey that features Van and Montrose intertwined in an 11-minute battle of wits, pitting the singer’s improvised scatting and the guitarist’s unbridled mastery of the acoustic guitar.

After so much relative solemnity you`re ready for the joyously uplifting title track, a perfect rendition of a song that tends to make the sun come out and the birds sing. Redwood Tree is next, an almost folky song in Van`s nostalgic vein.
Almost Independence Day is the grand finale to this great album, another vocal and musical exploration in Van`s “this`ll take as long as it takes” manner. It`s a tremendous tour-de-force. The accompaniment on this track, as on the whole album, is flawless, spontaneous, and exactly “right”.
Throughout this man`s now illustrious career he`s often come up with masterpieces.
Listen.

Tupelo Honey

Tupelo Honey (1971 )

Van Morrison’s “Caledonia soul”–his unique blend of Irish mysticism and spiritual questing, literary allusion and blue-eyed R&B–can be as beautiful and deeply emotional as any music ever made. That’s certainly the case on 1971’s Tupelo Honey, one of the finest albums of Morrison’s long career. Kicking off with the classic “Wild Night”, Tupelo Honey is as completely joyous as the normally bitter Van gets, particularly on the title track and the unabashedly grateful, slow-building “You’re My Woman”, both among the most moving love songs he’s ever recorded.

Like David Bowie, Van Morrison has always harbored a penchant for hiring ace guitarists to assist him in the craftsmanship of his catalog. The relationship between the Irish singer and American guitar icon Ronnie Montrose is rarely recognized, even as it’s proven to be one of Van’s most fruitful collaborations. Montrose plays a tasty Stax-like lick against bassist Bill Church’s funky walk, opening Van’s 1971 classic album Tupelo Honey with a major boot in the booty.

Into the Music

Into The Music (1979)
Into The Music is a blue-print of the adult contemporary direction than Van Morrison would pursue during the 1980s, but the song writing is so sharp that it’s his best album. It’s slickly produced and loaded with backing vocalists, strings, saxophones, and other adult contemporary paraphernalia, but for these joyous songs the sensory overload approach works beautifully, like being swept away by a wave of intertwined sexual and spiritual power.

Following a directionless mid-to-late 1970s, Morrison wrapped up the decade with one of his most enjoyable albums, Into the Music, a breezy declaration of spiritual and musical regeneration. With a sensational new band, spearheaded by former James Brown horn player Pee Wee Ellis and freewheeling violinist Toni Marcus, he hit upon a powerful folk-soul hybrid which on the album culminated in a monumental 11-minute version of the 1950s standard It’s All in the Game. Van’s more accessible musical instincts were also back on track. The one-two punch of Bright Side of the Road (a minor hit in the UK) and this rousing declaration of being “returned to the Lord” is one of Morrison’s most uplifting opening sequences, and the most effortlessly immediate music he had made since the days of Brown Eyed Girl. Whether or not you care for the God-talk, The track Full Force Gale is an irresistible expression of rebirth, a punchy pop gospel testament which sweeps away any doubters.

His Band And The Street Choir  (1970)

Van was apparently a happy man, especially judging from the group photos in the booklet, living with Janet Planet (a union which wasn`t to last) and their child in Woodstock, NY. There is even a note by Janet, reproduced from the original foldout LP sleeve, testifying to Van`s newfound bliss. All of this comes across in what is his loosest, most `hippyfied` album, though it`s also a record with heaps of soul, and the high degree of musicianship we`ve now come to expect on each and every Van Morrison release.

Invariably Morrison gives us a great opening track, and Domino is no exception, taking its honoured place
Next is the offbeat, irresistible Crazy Face – which I notice another reviewer dares us to try and sing! I kind of know what he means. Another highlight is Call Me Up In Dreamland, a song that couldn`t be simpler, but could hardly be less memorable too.
Blue Money is a bit throwaway, but then comes what might just be the loveliest song on the album, Virgo Clowns, which is as compelling as its title. Van sings it with passion and soulfulness.
If I Ever Needed Someone is pure, unadulterated soul. Gypsy Queen is superb, as is the terrific and cathartic closer, Street Choir.
There are some excellent musicians playing with the Man, including John Platania on guitar and mandolin, Jack Schroer on saxes, with Janet Planet herself and Martha Velez (remember her?) as two of the backing singers.
The number of songs about or inspired by Janet are positively Lennon-esque in their devotion, but who could blame him? They look so happy…
After this record came the wonderful Tupelo Honey, Street Choir It stands up on its own, a deceptively loose-knit, euphoric set of twelve songs sung with soulful power by the man who will always and ever be

This upbeat ditty finds Van Morrison once again paying tribute to one of the greats, as he penned the track as a nod to Fats Domino. Morrison lets loose on the song for one of the most infectious sounding cuts of his career. The singer wrote the track in 1968, but some believe he held onto it until 1970 knowing its hit potential and not wanting it to fall under a publishing deal in which he would have given up half the profits to the song. ‘Domino’ holds the distinction of being the singer’s highest charting track ever.

While these albums tend to be among his most well recognised, putting the acclaimed Astral Weeks is probably unconventional. Hardcore Van Morrison fans tend to gravitate to his more insular albums like 1980’s Common One and 1986’s No Guru, No Method, No Teacher.

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