Posts Tagged ‘Van Morrison’

Buy Online Van Morrison - Latest Record Project Volume 1 Standard 3LP

“Latest Record Project’ is the opening track and introduction to Van Morrison’s forthcoming 42nd studio album ‘Latest Record Project Vol. 1’ which explores the classic and timeless quality of the blues from a fresh perspective. Van charms the listener, soulfully singing “Have you got my latest record project?” Instinctive walking basslines, colourful backing vocals, and organ melodies bring warmth to his latest release. Equal parts blue-eyed soul shouter and wild-eyed poet-sorcerer, Van Morrison’s status as an artist of integrity and distinction is self-evident.

Van Morrison will release his 42nd album Latest Record Project: Volume 1 (Exile/BMG) on May 7th. The 28-track collection, weaved around Morrison’s love of jazz, R&B, blues, and soul, was born out of a period of forced isolation in 2020, following the onset of the pandemic. When Morrison found himself without a tour in site, he immersed himself in a constant flow of song writing, starting songs off on piano, guitar or saxophone as he pieced together the new material, all textured in his rhythm and soul.

The album’s title track is from the heart, wrapped in upbeat harmonies and backing sha la la las with Morrison reflecting a newfound excitement for his new music in Not something that you’re used to / Not something you might be able to relate to in the present through livelier refrains of Have you got my latest record project?

Other tracks revealed off Latest Record Project included an R&B tinged “Jealousy,” garage rock “Stop Bitching, Do Something,” and a more country-fused “A Few Bars Early.”

In releasing Latest Record Project, which will be available on double-CD, deluxe-CD, triple-vinyl and digital formats, Morrison says he’s breaking out of the rotation of his greatest hits. 

“I’m getting away from the perceived same songs, same albums all the time,” says Morrison ofLatest Record Project. “This guy’s done 500 songs, maybe more, so hello. Why do you keep promoting the same 10? I’m trying to get out of the box.”

The Official Lyric Video for Latest Record Project by Van Morrison. The new double album Latest Record Project Volume 1 will be release on 7th May 2021.

The Caledonia Soul Orchestra was the band created by Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison in 1973. The band was named after an eighteen-minute instrumental outtake on the His Band and the Street Choir album. Actually, Morrison could have released two more albums in 1973, because I’ve already posted an album he did of country standards recorded from 1971 to 1973, After the success of ”Astral Weeks” and  “Moondance”, Van Morrison initially wanted his third album for Warner Bros, “His Band And The Street Choir”, to be a vocal album. “It was originally a concept to do an a cappella album. Street Choir was to be an a cappella group and I wanted these certain guys to form a group so I could cut a lot of a cappella with just maybe one guitar,” Morrison later told biographer Ritchie Yorke. “But it didn’t turn out; it all got weird.”

In the end, His Band And The Street Choir, released on 15th November 1970, contained plenty of sizzling brass sounds – with Morrison himself playing tenor saxophone on the tracks Crazy Face and Call Me Up in Dreamland – in an album full of funky, radio-friendly singles. Guitarist John Platania said that when they finally got down to recording the album at A&R Recording Studios, in New York City, in the spring and summer of 1970, Morrison “had designs on getting stuff played on radio”.

The album’s biggest hit single was the opening track, “Domino”, a potent mix of R&B and funk that is, in part, a tribute to Fats Domino. “Hey Mr DJ/I just want to hear some rhythm and blues music/On the radio” sings Morrison on a song that gained plenty of airplay, and which earned the Belfast-born musician a Top 10 hit in the US. The bass, drums and horns meld brilliantly on Domino and it quickly became a song Morrison would regularly perform live. On the single, he even starts one chorus by shouting words “Dig it!”

One of the key musicians on the album was drummer Dahaud Elias Shaar, who went on to become an essential member of Morrison’s Caledonia Soul Orchestra backing band. Shaar, who also sang backing vocals and played bass clarinet on  His Band And The Street Choir, remembered “a positive vibe around that whole record”.

Few songs in Morrison’s career are as upbeat as Virgo Clowns, with its encouragement to “let your laughter fill the room”. The song was inspired by the memory of Morrison playing with his young daughter Shana. “We’ve become so serious, we get too heavy about what everything means,” Morrison told Melody Maker. “I was sitting one day feeling very heavy, and my daughter came up to me and started cracking up. And then I started cracking up when I realised it. I’m sitting here thinking that it’s all too serious and it’s not.”

Though “Give Me A Kiss” was a rather formulaic love song, the inventive “I’ll Be Your Lover Too” was sung with soulful intensity. You can hear Morrison ask “How’s that?” at the end of the tender love song. Crazy Face is about a man who pulls out a gun and announces, “I got it from Jesse James” – an appropriate song for Morrison, given that he had recently been nicknamed The Belfast Cowboy by The Band’s Robbie Robertson.

The splendidly infectious rocker I’ve Been Working was an out-take from Moondance, while Morrison sings some splendid falsetto on Gypsy Queen. When Jon Landau reviewed the album for Rolling Stone in February 1971 he was particularly impressed by “the powerful “Call Me Up in Dreamland”, which he described as “the singalong of the year”.

Landau also hailed the closing track, Street Choir, as one of the singer’s “two or three finest songs”. The plaintive chorus (“Why did you leave America?/Why did you let me down?”) was sung by The Street Choir, who comprised Shaar, Andy Robinson, Larry Goldsmith, Ellen Schroer (wife of the album’s saxophonist, Jack Schroer), Martha Velez (wife of trumpeter Keith Johnson) and Morrison’s then wife, Janet Planet.

Planet, who divorced Morrison a couple of years later, was living in Woodstock with the singer at the time the album was made, and she is the subject of the love song Sweet Jannie. Planet designed the His Band And The Street Choir album cover and wrote the original sleeve notes, on which she gushed: “This is the album that you must sing with, dance to, you must find a place for the songs somewhere in your life. They belong to you now, dear listener, especially for you.”

Morrison has sometimes expressed dissatisfaction over an album that he said he “cranked out”, but His Band And The Street Choir retains a real charm and features several Morrison classics, especially Domino and I’ve Been Working. One of the overlooked gems is the religious If I Ever Needed Someone, which features a stunning trio of backing singers. Morrison specially hired gospel stars Judy Clay and Jackie Verdell along with Emily “Cissy” Houston – the mother of Whitney Houston who, in her own right, won Grammys as a solo artist after having worked with Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin – and they provided superb support for his heartfelt singing.

As for this album, the highlight has to be song from the session which was excluded on the album is this wonderful track “Caledonia Soul Music.” It’s seventeen minutes long and mostly instrumental. 

His+Band+and+The+Street+Choir+s

Van’s third solo album, November 1970’s His Band and the Street Choir, will never be considered one of Van’s grand statements, but it holds its place as a necessary piece of the Van Morrison puzzle. And is cherished by many Van the Man fans, who should enjoy this remastered and expanded near gem.

The songs on Street Choir are relatively compact and seemingly quite well-adjusted. Any allusions to being a “stranger in this world” appear to have been quelled by the band who achieve a perfect groove. “Domino” so immediately announces its ease of execution that Van can’t help but glide over the backing band with a sense of freedom so contagious that every listener floats on its merry wave. This sense of camaraderie among the players – enforced by the album’s photos taken at a birthday party for Peter, the son of Van Morrison’s then-wife Janet Planet – enabled Van to nail down several songs that had previously eluded him, including “Domino,” that hailed from the Astral Weeks-era of November 1968, according to Cory Frye’s informative liner notes.

The album itself was meant to capitalize on Van’s current hot streak withMoondance, whose single “Come Running” peaked at #39. His manager, Mary Martin, convinced him to return to New York’s A&R Studios, only a month after that album’s release. Working with the stellar core group of guitarist John Plantania, saxophonist Jack Schroer, bassist John Klingberg and the addition of keyboardist Alan Hand, trumpeter/organist Keith Johnson, and tour drummer Dahaud Elias Shaar (aka Daoud Shaw and David Shaw). Van rehearsed in an old church in Woodstock, NY, before laying down the official tracks in the studio. Martin’s instincts proved correct, as the album’s first single, “Domino,” went to No#9, Van’s highest charting pop hit in the U.S., passing “Brown Eyed Girl” (#10) by a notch.

His Band and the Street Choir is another beautiful phase in the continuing development of one of the few originals left in rock. In his own mysterious way. Van Morrison continues to shake his head, strum his guitar and to sing his songs. He knows it’s too late to stop now and he quit trying to a long, long time ago. Meanwhile, the song he is singing keeps getting better and better.”- John Landau,

The Album also called “Street Choir”  was the fourth solo album by Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison. It was released on 15th November 1970 by Warner Bros. Records. Originally titled “Virgo’s Fool”  but was renamed by Warner Bros. without Morrison’s consent. Recording began in early 1970 with a demo session in a small church in Woodstock, New York. Morrison booked the A&R Studios on 46th Street in New York City in the second quarter of 1970 to produce two sessions of songs that were released on His Band and the Street Choir. Reviewers praised the music of both sessions for its free, relaxed sound, but the lyrics were considered to be simple compared with those of his previous work. Morrison had intended to record the album a cappella with only vocal backing by a vocal group he called the Street Choir, but the songs released on the album that included the choir also featured a backing band. Morrison was dissatisfied with additional vocalists to the original quintet that made up the choir,

Compared to the meditative beast that is Saint Dominic’s Preview (1972), with its twin 10-minute-plus epics, “Listen to the Lion” and “Almost Independence Day,” or the complete return-to-Ireland masterpiece that is Veedon Fleece (1974), Street Choir feels less ambitious. However, one should never discount Van’s handling of more succinct material. The Fats Domino homages are obvious (“Domino,” “Blue Money”) and slightly under the radar (“Give Me a Kiss”) and occasionally come across as workmanlike. But considering the Belfast fireplug’s impulsive phrasings and his behind-the-beat inclinations are always just an Irish Heartbeat away from creating an alternative Ulster R&B universe, it’s worth giving him his genre exercises. Besides, pianist Alan Hand works double-time to ensure everything rolls as it should.

Anyone versed in Van’s career knows he doesn’t stay in one place for long and no amount of Fats Domino love is going to contain him. Street Choir’s best moments –besides the ease of “Domino,” the Curtis Mayfield sweetness of “Gypsy Queen,” and the meditative acoustic revelry of “I’ll Be Your Lover, Too” – come from the full-band blast-off of “Call Me Up in Dreamland,” where all is pure locomotion with Van on tenor sax, “Virgo Clowns,” where loosely doubled vocals create a rare-but-effective moment of joy from the legendary crank, and the closing duo of “If I Ever Needed Someone” and “Street Choir,” where Van teases out a George Harrison sentiment to the breaking point and Keith Johnson’s organ takes the title track to the next astral plane.

Essentially, it’s A-minus Van Morrison, which is still light years beyond all but ‘A’ list artists like the Stones, Kinks, Dylan, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, Sonics and Stooges. The original album packed 12 songs with no room for the improvisational sidetracking that makes his A-plus discs impossible to beat. At the same time, the album came just eight months after its predecessor and 11 months before its followup, Tupelo Honey. It wasn’t like Springsteen or Paul Simon who took lifetimes between releases. Despite Van’s masterful reach, he’s never treated any of his work as so precious that it had to be shined a thousand ways before final release. If something isn’t working, he moves on to something else and saves the idea for another day. Van’s genius is rarely in the writing. As a lyricist, he’s often lazy and as a songwriter he rarely ventures beyond the usual chords. Though he’s done more with two chords than most musicians do with a full arsenal. Van’s genius is in the execution.

The bonus tracks – alternate takes of “Call Me Up in Dreamland,” “Give Me a Kiss” and “Gypsy Queen” and alternate ‘versions’ of “I’ve Been Working” and “I’ll Be Your Lover, Too” (distinctions between ’takes’ and ‘versions’ not apparent) – mostly offer unvarnished, simpler takes that since not chosen were not subjected to overdubs.

Regarding these bonuses, all are welcomed, though none shock the system. (Inexplicably, the seventeen-minute instrumental “Caledonia Soul Music” was eliminated from the final product.) The alternate version of “I’ve Been Working” is mildly quicker and looser with an extended sax solo in its mid-section. “I’ll Be Your Lover, Too,” the album’s most meditative and heartfelt cut, puts Van’s vocal right in your ear, without the mild studio reverb of the official track and with yet another superlative performance. “Gypsy Queen,” the first cousin to Moondance’s “Crazy Love,” begins with several false starts before aiming for – and landing in – the heavens. It’s another fine alternate take that illustrates how Van had these songs where he wanted them at this point and could at any moment out-sing just about anyone not named Stevie Wonder or Al Green.

Van Morrison has released the third of three new songs that’s he’s recorded to protest the “ongoing U.K. lockdown restrictions.” “No More Lockdown” arrived October 23rd, following the release of “As I Walked Out” on October 9th, and “Born To Be Free,” which he released on September 25th. Morrison says he will donate the profits from the songs to charity to support musicians impacted by the ongoing lockdown. The singer-songwriter resumed touring on September 3rd with the first of several socially distanced concerts for 2020. Listen to all three of them below.

Profits from the songs will be steered to the Van Morrison Rhythm and Blues Foundation, which aids musicians. “No more taking our freedom, and our God-given rights,” Morrison sings on “No More Lockdown.”

On August. 25th, Morrison wrote, “We are doing socially distanced gigs. This is not a sign of compliance or acceptance of the current state of affairs; this is to get my band up and running and out of the doldrums. This is also not the answer going forward.

“I call on my fellow singers, musicians, writers, producers, promoters and others in the industry to fight with me on this. Come forward, stand up, fight the pseudo-science and speak up.”

“As I walked out,” Morrison sings on “As I Walked Out,” “all the streets were empty. The government said, ‘Everyone should stay home.’ And they spread fearing and loathing, and no hope for the future. Not many did question this very strange move.” On “Born To Be Free,” Morrison sings, “Don’t need the government cramping my style. Give them an inch they take a mile.”

Morrison performed the first of several socially distanced concerts for 2020 on September. 3rd in Newcastle, U.K., and then two more in the London borough of Camden, on Sept. 5-6. The dates followed his August statement in which he railed upon the “pseudo-science” associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

He’s since added several more for this autumn, some of which are billed as “Save Life Performance” concerts. Many of the other upcoming concerts were postponed from earlier this year; all have limited capacity. Eric Clapton offered his support, writing, “There are many of us who support Van and his endeavours to save live music, he is an inspiration! We must stand up and be counted.”

To date, Morrison has released 40 albums. His newest, Three Chords and the Truth, was released on Exile/Caroline International in Oct. 2019. (Before that came 2018’s The Prophet Speaks, where he returned to his blues roots.) Morrison’s biggest hits include “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Have I Told You Lately,” “Moondance” and “Into the Mystic.” In 2018, he celebrated the 50th anniversary of the release of his Astral Weeks album in 1968.

Morrison turned 75 on August 31st

Exile Records Released on: 2020-09-25 Producer: Composer: Lyricist: Van Morrison

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On this day (March. 28th) in 1967: Van Morrison recorded the track “Brown Eyed Girl” during a two-day session at A&R Studios in New York City; written by Van, it was one of eight songs recorded at the time for his new record label, Bang Records; produced by Bang founder Bert Berns in 22 takes, the finished version was different than what Van had envisioned; “The record came out different,” he later explained…”This fellow Bert, he made it the way he wanted it & I accepted the fact that he was producing it, so I just let him do it”…(this fab clip from 1973, likely more how Van heard it…). The song spent a total of sixteen weeks on the chart. It featured the Sweet Inspirations singing back-up vocals and is considered to be Van Morrison’s signature song. “Brown Eyed Girl” has remained a staple on classic rock radio, and has been covered by hundreds of bands over the decades.

Because of a contract he signed with Bang Records without legal advice, Morrison states that he has never received any royalties for writing or recording this song. Morrison vented frustration about this unjust contract in his sarcastic nonsense song “The Big Royalty Check”. Morrison has stated that “Brown Eyed Girl” is not among his favourite songs, remarking “it’s not one of my best. I mean I’ve got about 300 songs that I think are better.

After finishing his contract with “Decca Records” and the mid-1966 break-up of his band, Them , Morrison returned to Belfast seeking a new recording company. When he received a phone call from Bert Berns owner of Bang Records who had produced a number of recordings with Them, he flew to New York City and hastily signed a contract (which biographer Clinton Heylin says probably still gives him sleepless nights). During a two-day recording session starting 28th March 1967, he recorded eight songs intended to be used as four singles. The recording session took place at A & R Studios and “Brown Eyed Girl” was captured on the 22nd take on the first day. Of the musicians Berns had assembled, there were three guitarists Eric Gale Hugh McCracken and Al Gorgoni plus bassist Russ Savakus pianist Paul Griffin and drummer Gary Chester It was released as a single in mid-June 1967.

Originally titled “Brown-Skinned Girl”,Morrison changed it to “Brown Eyed Girl” when he recorded it. Morrison remarked on the title change: “That was just a mistake. It was a kind of Jamaican song. Calypso. It just slipped my mind [that] I changed the title. After we’d recorded it, I looked at the tape box and didn’t even notice that I’d changed the title. I looked at the box where I’d lain it down with my guitar and it said ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ on the tape box. It’s just one of those things that happen.

The song’s nostalgic lyrics about a former love were considered too suggestive at the time to be played on many radio stations. A radio-edit of the song was released which removed the lyrics “making love in the green grass”, replacing them with “laughin’ and a-runnin’, hey hey” from a previous verse. This edited version appears on some copies of the compilation album The Best of Van Morrison. However, the remastered album seems to have the bowdlerised lyrics in the packaging but the original “racy” lyrics on the disc.

“Brown Eyed Girl” joined an elite group of songs as it was honoured for having 10 million US radio air plays

Van Morrison Three Chords and the Truth

Van Morrison has announced a new album, “Three Chords and the Truth”, and shared its lead single, “Dark Night of the Soul”.
Due out October 25th via Exile/Caroline International, the new LP marks Morrison’s 41st record overall and sixth in just the last four years. It’s follows 2018’s The Prophet Speak and You’re Driving Me Crazy, his collaborative effort with jazz musician Joey DeFrancesco.Morrison produced and wrote all the tracks himself, save for “If We Wait for Mountains”, which was co-written with Don Black. Guitarist Jay Berliner, who played on the classic Astral Weeks, contributed to the sessions, while The Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley appears on the duet “Fame Will Eat the Soul”.

“Dark Night of the Soul” serves as a first listen to the 14-track collection. The song is vintage Morrison, mid-tempo and as graceful as an evening breeze. Smooth instrumentation provides a velveteen bedding for Morrison’s ageless vocals, which he really unleashes on the marathon of runs during the closing third.

Take a listen below, and pre-order Three Chords and the Truth at Morrison’s website.

Van Morrison and Joey Defrancesco / You're Driving Me Crazy

The Calendonian soul singer reworks solo material, jazz and blues standards on 39th album, featuring Hammond organ/trumpet player Joey DeFrancesco . Van reinvents jazz, blues standards and deep cuts from his catalog on the new LP, You’re Driving Me Crazy, released back in April via Sony Legacy Recordings. The soul singer collaborated with Hammond organ/trumpet virtuoso Joey DeFrancesco on the album, which is his 39th studio project.

Van Morrison’s third album in a matter of months – following the bluesy Roll With the Punches and the jazz-focused Versatile – seems to have been sparked by musical camaraderie as much as by any overt creative impulse. Both of those 2017 albums featured Morrison band regulars, while You’re Driving Me Crazy finds him working with organist Joey DeFrancesco and his sizzling soul-jazz combo. Both share an enduring desire to preserve mid-century music – but also to extend its reach. Like Morrison, DeFrancesco is no staunch traditionalist. They fiddle with the genre, revel in it. The results can’t exactly be called ground breaking, but You’re Driving Me Crazy crackles with wit and verve. That’s contagious.

Jazz journeyman DeFrancesco – who has previously worked with Miles Davis, John McLaughlin and Grover Washington Jr. – recruited his own band for the Morrison sessions, with guitarist Dan Wilson, drummer Michael Ode and tenor saxophone player Troy Roberts contributing to the LP.

You’re Driving Me Crazy alsoincludes reworked jazz and blues classics (Peter Chatman’s “Every Day I Have the Blues,” Eddie Jones’ “The Things I Used to Do,” Cole Porter’s “Miss Otis Regrets”) alongside tunes from throughout Morrison’s discography (“The Way Young Lovers Do from 1968’s Astral Weeks through the title-track to 2005’s Magic Time).

The Prophet Speaks is Van Morrison’s 40th studio album and will be released on 7th December. This 14 track album follows a recent run of hugely acclaimed albums (Roll With The Punches, Versatile and You’re Driving Me Crazy), each delving into musical styles that have inspired Van throughout his life – vocal jazz and R&B. Here, Van takes on a series of classics by the likes of John Lee Hooker, Sam Cooke and Solomon Burke and makes them unmistakably his own, alongside six phenomenal new Van compositions.

Van the Man has been revisiting his roots with set after set of jumping jazz, blustery blues and classic R&B standards. With his gruff vocals and natural sway, the so-called Belfast Cowboy revisited the music with an authenticity and eagerness that’s never deserted him throughout his 50 plus year career. Here again, his enthusiasm is infectious, from the effusive shout-out of “Got To Go Where the Love Is,” one of half a dozen songs Morrison contributes to this 14 song set, to the easy, seemingly effortless swing and sass of “Dimples,” “Laughin’ and Clownin’” and “Greenwich Mean Time.” Clearly Van’s still got his groove, and his devotion to form is evident throughout. Indeed, his effortless sway on “I Love the Life I Live” seems to bear out the sentiments expressed in the title. The Prophet Speaks becomes a matter of his own personal preference. The rural backwoods Morrison of Tupelo Honey, Morrison, the celestial traveler of Astral Weeks and Morrison, the Celtic crooner that shared his ancient hymns throughout the ‘80s have clearly succumbed to his new persona as a timeless troubadour of a distinctly vintage variety.

The Prophet Speaks is Van Morrison’s is released via Caroline International. Van takes on a series of unarguable classics by the likes of John Lee Hooker, Sam Cooke and Solomon Burke (among others) and makes them unmistakably his own. Alongside these reinterpretations,

The latest track ‘Spirit Will Provide‘ Taken from the forthcoming album ‘The Prophet Speaks’ out on 7th December.

 

Summer 1968 was a transitional time for the Belfast Cowboy Van Morrison. Recently departed from his garage rock band Them and unsatisfied with the release of debut solo album “Blowin’ Your Mind”, he was determined to move his music from the peppy pop of “Brown Eyed Girl” to someplace deeper. He was briefly living in the Boston area, where he conceived of the mystical blend of soul, jazz, folk, and Celtic music that would define his masterpiece of a second album Astral Weeks

Crucial to the development of that sound were a series of live performances in August at a small subterranean club called the Catacombs, backed by a local bassist and flautist. Writer and musician Ryan Walsh, in his book about the album and wider happenings in Boston at the time (also called Astral Weeks), He describes a recording of one of those Catacombs gigs, perhaps the only known document of this embryonic stage of an album that is routinely cited as among the greatest of all time. The recording was never released, nor was it circulated as a bootleg. Much of the Astral Weeks book is spent documenting Walsh’s own heroic efforts to find a recording copy.

Then, on Wednesday of this week, an official download of the recording, simply titled Live in Boston 1968suddenly appeared online as an official download. It was only available via iTunes UK, and the cover art was essentially blank. But by Thursday afternoon, this rarest of rare recordings had disappeared again, wiped from the store. Van Morrison has always been a bit of a strange guy, but this was bizarre even for him.

Walsh has a pretty good theory about what’s happening here. He speculated that the release was intended as a “copyright dump.” By officially making the recording available for purchase, according to Walsh, Morrison is asserting and preserving his copyright over it before it defaults to the public domain in January, 50 years after it was made. The optimistic interpretation of this move is that Morrison is gearing up to release the show officially; the pessimistic interpretation is that he’s moving to block anyone who would attempt do so themselves after it became public domain. Either way, it would not be surprising if this were spurred on by Walsh’s book, which was published in March of this year. If you missed out on downloading the show yourself, it seems likely that it will soon pop up via various non-sanctioned channels if it hasn’t already, now that it’s out there.

“Brown Eyed Girl” hit the radio waves 50 years ago. The hit became a landmark moment for its singer, Van Morrison, who had just left his home of the Belfast-born Irish soul troubadour Van Morrison and his band Them to break out on his own. “Brown Eyed Girl” was a start, but it wasn’t what Morrison saw himself doing.

Throughout his career, Morrison has weaved into many genres, but the thread of deep spirituality has bound the pieces together. His perspectives have shifted dramatically — from mystic poeticism to born-again Christianity and everything between, even dabbling in Scientology — but it’s always there, and it’s part of what makes his catalog so fascinating.  he has remained a conspicuously remote rock star, with a well-earned reputation as one of the truly difficult and diffident figures in popular music. Tales of his crankiness are legendary, and include hectoring inattentive audiences, abusing fellow musicians both on and off stage,

Van Morrison is one of rock’s greatest poets, and no matter what he’s preaching or what the band’s playing, it’s profound and it’s certainly always got soul.

Astral Weeks

Morrison first came to prominence as a preternaturally gifted teenager fronting the gritty Blues soul act Them. By 1967, he had already composed the now standards “Gloria” and “Brown Eyed Girl,” which remain two of his best-known songs. But the idiosyncratic and complicated Morrison was always a one-man gang at heart, and the inevitable launch of his solo career would bring to bear the intensely sad, sublime and inventive chamber pop of Astral Weeks, an instantly legendary album whose luminous power has only increased with age.

It’s almost impossible to pick one track from the close-stitched tapestry that is Astral Weeks, where every song – excepting, perhaps, the smooth swing of The Way Young Lovers Do makes persuasive claim to being a masterpiece. Morrison’s dreamtime evocation of postwar Belfast was recorded in a handful of hours with some of America’s finest jazz musicians, relying on intuition and alchemy to bring the songs of memory and rebirth to vivid life. Madame George exemplifies the album’s mood of heightened nostalgia, its pitch of ecstatic longing. Earlier attempts at the song recorded with Berns came out sounding boorish and flat-footed. Now working with New York producer Lewis Merenstein, Morrison and his hired hands instinctively divine the heart of it, capturing an entire street world in 10 minutes with three simple acoustic guitar chords, fluttering flute, backstreet violin and Richard Davis’s double bass, the elastic anchor which holds the whole thing together. The charismatic drag queen of the title – an amalgam of six or seven different people, according to Morrison – is a wonderfully elusive construct around whom a rich cast of characters spin. Although his lyricism has never been more colourful or evocative, the key line is a simple one: “Say goodbye.” Madame George is one long letting go: to time, place, people; above all to innocence. It ranks among the most beautiful and heartbreaking farewells in popular music.

“To be born again / To be born again / From the far side of the ocean,” Morrison sings on the title track, signaling a personal reinvention; not only from his new home in America, but of rock music entirely. Astral Weeks is where it really begins. Morrison mixed the acoustic folk he had been playing in Boston coffee shops with a new jazz ensemble, featuring musicians who had played with the likes of Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, Charles Mingus and the Modern Jazz Quartet.

Morrison showed the band his acoustic songs and told them to add what they felt. The classical guitar and flute flutter between string arrangements, Morrison’s spiritual poetry dancing atop, while Richard Davis’s double bass drives straight through, grounding it all. The songs are loose and free.

Astral Weeks was an insane idea: a largely improvised 47-minute jazz-folk song-cycle that wed a passionate spirituality to tales of Belfast’s most pronounced outcasts: junkies, transvestites, and disenfranchised souls of every variety. In its way, Astral Weeks was every bit as subversive and daring as the Velvet Underground’s thematically similar White Light/White Heat, released the same year. In some ways it was more so. While the Velvets swathed their tales of deviance and deprivation inside apocalyptic walls of feedback and dissonance, Van went the other way, with gentle, slow building beauty eerily offsetting the desperation of the album’s inhabitants.

Astral Weeks was an inarguably masterful record, but its baroque, drawn-out tales held little in the way of commercial promise.

There’s no other record like Astral Weeks. Its 47 minutes seem to be over in the blink of an eye, leaving you questioning everything you knew about music.

Moondance

Van followed it up with Moondance, an album full of brief, catchy, and often spectacular songs, including two unimpeachable classics: the rough and ready “Caravan” and the borderline transcendent slow burn “Into The Mystic.” The album was justifiably a million-seller, and from that point forward Van remained a bona fide commercial proposition as well as an artistic one,

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.

While Astral Weeks was a loose exploration, Morrison ditched the jazz ensemble for a new band for its follow-up. Moondance is far more structured, though he hides that with the freewheeling imagery of gypsies and idyllic county fairs. His spirituality is in full force here, from the baptism of “And It Stoned Me” (“Oh the water/Let it run all over me”) to the gospel of “Brand New Day.”

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 then 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 would define what people would come to expect from a Van Morrison record: the swinging blue-eyed soul of an Northern Irish folk rocker enamored with early R&B. Side 1 is stacked with many of his best known songs: “And It Stoned Me,” “Moondance,” “Crazy Love,” “Caravan” and “Into the Mystic.” And side 2 is just as good. The dual saxophones of Jack Schroer and Collin Tilton keep the music from veering too far off into other genres, pulling the country rock of “Come Running” and the bluesy “These Dreams of You” right back into Morrison’s signature style.

His Band and the Street Choir

Van Morrison seemed to have aged quite a bit by 1970. He began writing and producing everything himself, relying heavily on song structure instead of the jams of Astral Weeks. His Band and The Street Choir is a confident step in the same direction as Moondance, but Morrison loosens up his grip to create a freer, more organic record — even leaving in some of the studio chatter. Moondance and His Band, were released in the same year, are like twins. They share a lot of the same genetic makeup, but they both pull in different directions, eager to prove themselves.

You know how the second side of Moondance was pleasant but unmemorable?His Band And The Street Choirs essentially is an entire album of the same thing – nicely arrangements, delivered in Van Morrison’s unmistakable voice, but the song-writing isn’t as sharp as on his other early albums. His Band And The Street Choir is generally grouped with the surrounding albums – Moondance and Tupelo Honey are as part of the domestic trilogy, chronicling Morrison’s life with Janet Planet in Woodstock in upstate New York.

Only a couple of the tunes from His Band And The Street Choir stick with me. Opener ‘Domino’ is a horn infused R&B song that’s still Van Morrison’s biggest hit in the US. And the closer ‘Street Choir’ has a big memorable chorus (“Why did you leave America?”) and more dramatic tension than the rest of the album. The remainder of Street Choir is often with less interesting lyrics than his best work.

There’s enough of Van Morrison’s enjoyable early sound to make His Band And The Street Choir interesting to fans.

Although always overshadowed by its multi-platinum sibling, His Band widens Van’s range. He runs through sax-filled soul rock on “Domino” (which topped even “Brown Eyed Girl” as his most successful single), folk on “Virgo Clowns,” and straight blues on “Sweet Jannie.” It’s loose and free but quintessentially Van.

Tupelo Honey

Although he moved to Marin County, California, to record Tupelo Honey, Woodstock, N.Y. is at the heart of the album. Lyrically, Morrison revels in his pastoral life that fell apart as Woodstock became a hippie destination after the 1969 festival.

Like many of his compatriots before him, Van Morrison relocated to America, although in his case it was due to a woman rather than a potato famine. While Van Morrison had lived in the U.S.A. since the start of his solo career, Tupelo Honey’s country textures make for his most American sounding album. Living in Woodstock, Van Morrison was living close to The Band, and they’re perhaps one influence on the rootsier sound here.

It’s perhaps symptomatic that the strongest tracks – opening single ‘Wild Night’ and the epic title track – are those closest to Van Morrison’s more typical R&B. If you’re not in the right mood, Tupelo Honey‘s agenda of doe-eyed domestic bliss can be nauseating, but despite the throwaway nature of several tracks the overall effect is often charming. The booklet artwork helps; Van, with his tight pants and little beard, looks like a cute Celtic mythological figure. The central song on Tupelo Honey is the gorgeous title track; it starts off with beautiful organ, joined by Van’s delicate vocal intoning “She’s as sweet as tupelo honey/She’s an angel of the first degree.” The other two epic tracks are also enjoyable; ‘You’re My Woman’ isn’t startlingly original, but carries through on a wave of euphoria, while ‘Moonshine Whiskey’ has a fluid catchy chorus that contrasts with the taut verses.

The standout tracks are the snappy lead-off single ‘Wild Night’, with a stylish bass entrance into the introduction, and ‘Old Old Woodstock’ which evokes the languid and rural tone of some of The Band’s work. The low point is ‘I Wanna Roo You’, which is even worse than the title suggests.

The lesser tracks do mesh into Tupelo Honey, as the whole album has a lightweight tone; a collection of mellow -tinged love songs. It’s enjoyable enough, but Tupelo Honey is one of Morrison’s lesser albums from his early catalogue.

The country waltz “(Straight to Your Heart) Like a Cannonball” finds him retreating to nature — “Sometimes it gets so hard/ And everything, everything don’t seem to rhyme/ I take a walk out in my backyard and go.” And although he abandoned the full-blown country-and-western theme he had planned for Tupelo Honey, the twang survived.  “When That Evening Sun Goes Down” bops with honky-tonk piano and slide guitar.

Saint Dominic’s Preview

Morrison genre hops more blatantly than ever on Saint Dominic’s Preview. He comes out swinging on the opener, “Jackie Wilson Said,” awash with saxophones and one of the catchiest hooks Morrison has ever written. But he wastes no time switching to the flute-heavy “Gypsy” and the Ray Charles jazz of “I Will Be There.” Morrison plays each style so convincingly, it’s barely noticeable how wide he’s reaching. But these three are really just an aperitif for what comes next.

Morrison’s superlative run of driving R&B singles in the early 1970s – Come Running, Domino, Blue Money, Wild Night  had turned him into a US pop star, a development he professed to loathe, naturally. That particular populist strain of writing peaked with this frantic, appealingly odd slice of finger-snapping soul-pop from 1972’s Saint Dominic’s Preview. Paying homage to the great American R&B star, one of the few vocal stylists who could hold a candle to the Belfast Cowboy, Morrison is at his most unaffected and exuberant.

There’s no poetry here, just a string of “do-do-do-dos”, “bop-shoop-bops” and “dang-a-lang-a-langs” to express the sheer joy of being head over heels in love. Dexys Midnight Runners had the big UK hit with the song in 1982 , but Van’s remains the definitive reading. You can imagine the wee fellow high-kicking his way through it, letting it “all hang out”, and very possibly tearing the seat of his trousers in the process.

Three-minute marvels stood toe to toe with phenomenal existential meditations, such as the spectacular, harrowing ten-minute wonder “Almost Independence Day,” from 1972’s brilliant St. Dominic’s Preview.

The last four tracks contain some of Morrison’s deepest moments. The 11-minute “Listen to the Lion” is surprisingly sparse. He manages to draw out the song’s minimal lyrics, repeating lines like “I shall search my soul” and “Lookin’ for a brand new start.” He changes each line slightly as he repeats, not in a trance, but magnetically drawn to each one. The title track and “Redwood Tree” owe much to Morrison’s new life in California but with more spirituality than anything on Tupelo Honey. The latter culminates with the lines “Won’t you keep us all from harm/ Wonderful redwood tree” delivered joyously like a gospel Thoreau. Similar to “Listen to the Lion,” album closer “Almost Independence Day” is a winding stream-of-consciousness epic. With only a few repeated words, Morrison leaves the listener completely in awe.

It’s Too Late to Stop Now

Morrison once said, “When I go into the studio, I’m a magician,” and working through this list, it’d be hard to argue against that. It seems obvious that he prefers the control of the studio to live performances where anything could go wrong. Even now, he has a reputation as an inconsistent performer, offering little to no banter between songs and often refusing to play the hits. But when he was on, he was untouchable.

It’s Too Late to Stop Now is Morrison’s Live at the Apollo. He fully embodies the soul singers he worshipped to deliver definitive versions of some of his songs — looser than ever, throwing ad-libs like a preacher speaking in tongues. Van runs through his classics like “Domino” and “Wild Night” with feverish energy, even singing along with the horns on “These Dreams of You.” A few times on the record, he catches his breath with slower tunes like “Cypress Avenue” or “Saint Dominic’s Preview” before jumping right back with fire. The maddening energy peaks on “Gloria,” where Morrison shows himself transformed from garage-rock singer to showstopping rhythm-and-blues man.

Morrison’s peerless double live album, It’s Too Late to Stop Now, is revisited this month in an expanded box set. Recorded during his 1973 tour, it captures him at a career peak, performing with the 11-piece Caledonia Soul Orchestra, a superlative band augmented with two horn players and a string quartet. The new material – 45 tracks – only serves to emphasise the jaw-dropping power and versatility of Morrison in full flood. It includes two previously unheard versions of Listen To the Lion, his epic incantation from Saint Dominic’s Preview; the one recorded at the Rainbow in London just about shades it for sheer vocal abandon, not to mention Bill Atwood’s soaring trumpet part. The song itself is the ultimate expression of Morrison’s compulsion to heed the internal voices that drive his music, the seemingly painful search for his inner lion. Over a slow, stop-start shuffle, the words are pared to a bare minimum. “I will search my very soul,” is the digested read; this is all about sound and feel. Many years later Morrison described it as “a song about me. Probably the only one”.

Veedon Fleece

Veedon Fleece is the ultimate hidden gem of Morrison’s catalog. Following the dissolution of his marriage, he returned to Ireland for first time since 1967. But Veedon Fleece isn’t really a breakup album Morrison already had a new fiancee at the time of his trip. It’s the sound of a man at a crossroads in his life, a wanderer coming home after a self-imposed exile, during which he failed to find a permanent place for himself.

Eventually, Van’s more meditative, experimental side became dominant again, resulting in both his best ever work and his most disappointing commercial results. 1974’s Veedon Fleece was a return to the geographic and emotional terrain of Astral Weeks, a Gaelic preoccupied masterclass packed with more melancholy, longing and despair than a mass audience was prepared to embrace. Its commercial failure would send a demoralized Morrison into a multi-year hiatus from releasing music. It is perhaps his greatest ever work.

After moving to America in 1967, Morrison spent the next six years in exile from Ireland. On his return in 1973 for a holiday, he immediately found the muse rapping at his window. He flew back to his home near San Francisco with a hatful of strange and beautiful songs, infused with Celtic twilight and preoccupied with a grail-like object that gave his next album its title but the significance of which even Morrison has since been unable to adequately explain. 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.

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; , 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.

The songs that take place in America deeply contrast with his descriptions of Ireland. “You can’t slow down and you can’t turn around/ And you can’t trust anyone,” he sings on “Who Was That Masked Man.” That paranoia comes right before the sunny description of Ireland on “Streets of Arklow” where he sings, “And our souls were clean/ And the grass did grow.”

Side 2 especially basks in the warm nostalgia of home with songs like “Cul de Sac” and “Country Fair.” On “You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push the River,” Morrison describes the search for the mythical “Veedon Fleece,” but musically he’s not searching, for the first time in years. He mostly treads through the jazzy folk he once covered on Astral Weeks, sounding more confident than ever.

Wavelength

Wavelength immediately showers you with warmth. “So glad you made it, so glad you’re here,” Morrison sings on opener “Kingdom Hall,” the perfect greeting to what might be his most accessible record, packed start to finish with pop-rock classics.

Wavelength is Morrison’s first attempt at incorporating synths, but it’s still firmly a ‘70s record. The title track swims in warm synths, courtesy of Van’s former Them bandmate Peter Bardens, but they’re never the star. The guitar is high in the mix, right beneath Morrison’s voice and the gospel harmonies.

The Band’s Garth Hudson bookends the album with electronics, tearing through a keyboard solo in “Kingdom Hall” and adding grand synths to closer “Take It Where You Find It,” but the organ and accordion on “Venice U.S.A.” keep Wavelength from wandering too far toward the sky. The album doesn’t rely too heavily on synths — it’s a balancing act that’s prevented the record from sounding dated almost 40 years later.

Like the albums that followed it, Wavelength is slick and commercial, and the style suits Morrison as his vocals are unique enough that a generic musical backing isn’t a problem. It does mean that Wavelength can’t coast by on atmosphere like some of Van Morrison’s previous work did; the album is a little monotonous in places, and some of the songs drag on too long, and it works best when he’s laying on the pop hooks.

There are pop hooks galore on pop songs like the title track and ‘Kingdom Hall’, while the short, punchy ‘Natalia’ is arguably the most memorable piece. The gentle ‘Hungry For Your Love’, with Morrison playing electric piano is melodic and memorable, while the most significant piece is the closer ‘Take It Where You Find It’, which slowly builds into a nine minute epic, with the refrain centering around “lost dreams and found dreams in America”.

After the tentative A Period of Transition, Wavelength is a step forward for Van Morrison; its more polished sound would be utilised for 1979’s career highlight Into The Music.

Into the Music

After the commercial success of Wavelength, Morrison looked inward, turning to spiritual writing in a new way. Songs like “Full Force Gale,” which features a slide guitar solo from Ry Cooder, and “Rolling Hills” show him embracing Christianity for the first time in his music. The strings played by Toni Marcus complement the lyrics beautifully, but his signature horn swells and sax solos are still there.

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, Full Force Gale is an irresistible expression of rebirth, a punchy pop gospel testament which sweeps away any doubters.

His early records revolve around searching — for a home, for love, for meaning — but starting in the late ‘70s, he seems to have it all figured out. His point of view may change from album to album, but in the moment he delivers these perspectives as truth. And for that moment, you’ll believe him. In “Angeliou,” Morrison perfectly sums up why we listen to his records: “It wasn’t what you said/ But just the way it felt to me/ As I listened to your story/ About a search and a journey/ Somewhere inside/ Just like mine.”

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.

No Guru, No Method, No Teacher,

His preoccupations became steadily more spiritual in nature, although the bile of his industry-related frustrations never abated. It all came together on the stunning 1986 release No Guru, No Method, No Teacher, an astoundingly underappreciated album that Okkervil River’s Will Sheff writes about with great insight

Van’s last full-length masterpiece was No Guru, No Method, No Teacher, released 30 years ago. From its pointed title onward it found him shucking off many of the formal teachings that had infiltrated his music over the past several years – Christianity, Scientology, Rosicrucianism – to reconnect with his enduring muses: nature, pantheistic spirituality and a deep absorption with the past.

In the Garden brings all three themes together in six minutes of pure rapture. Morrison transports himself back to “the garden wet with rain” of Astral Weeks, taking the listener, trancelike, through what he later described as “a meditative process”. The music is unspeakably gorgeous, a wonderfully tensile ensemble performance lead by Jef Labes’ rippling piano motif, every quiver held in check through to the ecstatic climax, where Morrison turns the album title into a mantra. Though he tends to favour more workmanlike material in concert these days, this remains the transcendent high point of Morrison’s recent live appearances.

Typical of Van, that gorgeous and wistfully autumnal album commences with a memorably dyspeptic complaint: “Copycats stole my words/ Copycats stole my songs/ Copycats stole my melodies…” It’s a funny sentiment, but it’s not wrong. The litany of timeless artists who have borrowed liberally from the musical vocabulary Morrison created is enormous. It is fair to assert that the careers of everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Elvis Costello to Dan Bejar would look immensely different without the presence of Van The Man’s influence. It is nearly assured that none of them would disagree, but the fact of it remains wildly under reported.

I’m still forming an opinion on this, but so far I think it’s one of his better albums from the period, with earthier arrangements. Like a 1980s’ take on his spacier mode – akin toAstral Weeks or Veedon Fleece. ‘One Irish Rover’ is pretty, ‘Foreign Window’ is punchy with its memorable horn riff.

Common One

Common One

This 15-minute excursion from 1980s meditative Common One became the fulcrum of Morrison’s live shows for the next decade, an open-ended opportunity for the band to vamp and for he and Ellis to engage in extended call-and-response routines about topics as obscure as brass bands and Seamus Heaney’s publisher. Summertime in England is the deepest of Deep Van, an improvised jumble of some of Morrison’s most pressing musical, spiritual and literary preoccupations. Partly inspired by the open spaces of Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way, it’s a deeply ambitious, highly eccentric, improvised blend of snappy rhythm, hymn-like half-time passages, funky organ, vaulting strings and free-flowing horns.

The action moves from the Lakes to the Vale of Avalon as Morrison pictures Wordsworth and Coleridge “smokin’ up in Kendal”, evokes Mahalia Jackson coming “through the ether”, pays homage to Yeats, Joyce, Eliot and, of course, William Blake, and eulogises about a woman in a red robe – “high in the art of sufferin’” – with whom he plans an assignation in the long grass. The conclusion of all this magnificent madness? “It ain’t why, why, why – it just is.”

Into The Music was among Van Morrison’s most accessible efforts; its followup is among the least. Common One plunges directly into mystic spiritual territory, and with two songs passing the 15 minute mark there’s little in the way of pop hooks. Losing pianist Mark Jordan from the Into The Music band changes the feel of the record significantly; Common One is more open sounding and jazz oriented, with more room for improvisation from Van Morrison’s vocals, and the saxophone and trumpet.

The result is arguably the most divisive album of Van Morrison’s career, as its lengthy song structures push it close to jazz (as admirers would classify it) or easy listening (as its detractors would label it); and there’s justifiable grounds for regarding Common One as a flat-out masterpiece, a noble failure, or as an outright snooze fest.

While it’s not immediately compelling, the ambient atmosphere of the longer pieces is quite unique in Van Morrison’s catalogue. A couple of the shorter pieces are accessible enough; ‘Satisfied’, which Christgau accurately categorises as “the only vaguely fast one”, could have fit nicely onto Into The Music with its punchy R&B arrangement, while ‘Wild Honey’ is concise and prettily melodic, with a sentimental arrangement and lyric (“don’t you feel my heart beat/just for you”) that rubs up nicely against the more esoteric material. The more esoteric, fifteen minute material comprises of ‘When Heart Is Open’, a subdued improvisational piece based on Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way, and the more urgent ‘Summertime In England’, where Van Morrison rants about T.S. Eliot and William Blake. Add in the charming opener ‘Haunts Of Ancient Peace’, and there’s plenty of really good material here.

Common One takes some effort to decode, and it’s probably the least approachable album that Van Morrison ever made, but there’s plenty to enjoy for dedicated fans.

Avalon Sunset

Before Morrison’s long slide into genre exercises – a skiffle album here, a country record there, jazzin’ at Ronnie Scott’s – and the undistinguished collections of too-solid blues and R&B that have defined his music over the past two decades, he enjoyed a late-80s commercial renaissance with Avalon Sunset. The album marks the lush, string-drenched apogee of his preoccupation with a peculiarly British strain of ancient mysticism. Forget the singularly unlikely Cliff Richard duet (Whenever God Shines His Light) which finally got The Man on Top of the Pops, and head instead to this magnificent miniature Coney Island is an orchestrated gem over which Morrison recites – in thick east Belfast vernacular; check out the way he says “face” – an autumn bird-watching trip through the County Down where the “craic was good” and so, apparently, was the grub: “Stop off at Ardglass for a couple of jars of mussels and some potted herrings, in case we get famished before dinner”. Somebody once tracked the route taken in the song and concluded that Morrison must have deployed William Burroughs’ cut-up technique on his road map, but such literalism misses the point. This is a journey into the heart of life’s simple joys, a note-to-self to seize contentment when it appears, even in such seemingly mundane pleasures as “stopping off for Sunday papers at the Lecale District”. A mere 123 seconds it may be, but Morrison’s eternally restless soul has rarely sounded at such peace. “Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?”

Avalon Sunset, Van Morrison’s 19th studio album, was a commercial success, and his fastest album to reach gold status in the UK. But while it attracted more attention than usual, it feels like Morrison is treading a well worn path by this point, To Van Morrison’s credit, he was able to write a popular standard on Avalon Sunset, unusual for a pop artist into the third decade of their recording career; ‘Have I Told You Lately’ was popularised by Rod Stewart, and has been co-opted as a popular wedding tune, but it’s a love song to God.

Similarly, the other songs that deal most explicitly with faith are also strong. It’s possible to dismiss the Cliff Richard duet ‘Whenever God Shines His Light’ as mawkish, but I like the contrast between Richard’ boyish tenor and Morrison’s emotive yelp. ‘When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God’ is tuneful and thoughtful.

Avalon Sunset is a solid album with no obvious throwaways, but besides these highlights I don’t have a whole lot of use for it; it’s mostly Van Morrison dispensing wisdom over a smooth backing. Unless you’re a hardcore fan, you’re probably better off finding the album’s best songs on a compilation.

Beautiful Vision 

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.

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 Christianity and Irish heritage. But even if he’s 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. Guests include Mark Knopfler, who plays guitar on ‘Cleaning Windows’ and ‘Aryan Mist’, while Morrison himself plays piano on the closing instrumental ‘Scandinavia’, where his sprays of notes are melodically compelling.

Enforcing an initial reaction that Beautiful Vision is bland and uninteresting, at least a couple of these songs are abjectly uneventful – the monotonous title track and ‘Aryan Mist’ both wander past without adding anything to the record. But digging deeper, there are a couple of catchy potential singles in the form of ‘Cleaning Windows’ and ‘Dweller On The Threshold’, the former a seemingly autobiographical tale from Van Morrison’s days in Belfast inspired by R&B, and the latter balancing wistful lyrics with a fast tempo. The standout track, though, is ‘Across The Bridge Where Angels Dwell’, where R&B, jazz, and gospel are fused into a glorious whole, Van Morrison’s voice floating above the female backing vocals. The two Celtic influenced pieces, ‘Northern Music (Solid Ground)’ and ‘Celtic Ray’, give the album a solid beginning,

The insular world that Morrison creates here isn’t ideal for neophytes, but Beautiful Vision is like a more mature, calmer version of Into The Music, and it’s not as far from that album’s greatness as it may seem on first impression.

Van Morrison Hard Nose the Highway

Hard Nose The Highway

You can’t go too far wrong with Van Morrison’s 1968-1974 period; Hard Nose The Highway is justifiably reckoned as one of his lesser albums from the era, but it’s still an enjoyable listen. If St. Dominic’s Preview was a brilliant summation of Van Morrison’s career up to that point, then Hard Nose The Highway is arguably a predictable retread.

The record also has more of a smooth, jazz-inflected feel, and it’s a little blander than usual, but it’s still sonically creative in the opening ‘Snow In San Anselmo’, which is one of the weirder successes in the Van Morrison catalogue. The two covers, the traditional British ballad ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, referred to here as ‘Purple Heather’, and the more bizarre choice of ‘Bein’ Green’ are also an indication of Van Morrison running out of ideas, but they’re nicely performed, and none of the above objections detract from the fact that most of the songs on this album are perfectly solid.

Despite the overall feeling that it’s a relatively minor work, the major issue with Hard Nose The Highway is simply that the ten minute track ‘Autumn Song’ drags more than it should; a pleasant but generic jazz tune is stretched out to unnecessary proportions, far less interesting than the previous record’s ‘Listen To The Lion’. The lyrical agenda of ‘The Great Deception’ is blatant (“Have you ever heard about the great Rembrandt/Have you ever heard about how he could paint/And he didn’t have enough money for his brushes”), but works fine musically.

The main appeal of Hard Nose The Highway is the pair of opening tracks; ‘Snow In San Alselmo’ is one of Van Morrison’s best arty tracks, with a eerie feeling and weird choir, while ‘Warm Love’ is one of his best commercial songs, with an accessible melody and utilising his pretty upper register. The title track is perfectly solid, while he also manages to bring something new to the somewhat over-used ‘Purple Heather’.

Hard Nose The Highway isn’t Van Morrison’s strongest album by any stretch of the imagination; it’s the quietly under-achieving record between two milestones, but Morrison was in such good form at this time that even his under-achievements are worth hearing.

TB Sheets

During Van Morrison’s spell in Them, the brutally, brilliantly reductive Belfast band he fronted between 1964 and 1966, there had been glimmers of an artistic sensibility at odds with the turbo-boosted dockside R&B of songs like Gloria and Baby Please Don’t Go. On My Lonely Sad Eyes, Hey Girl and an aching cover of John Lee Hooker’s Don’t Look Back, Morrison was reaching for something deeper and more revelatory. It wasn’t until he made his first solo recordings in New York with Bert Berns in 1967, however, that he began forging a distinct creative identity. The antithesis of the jaunty Brown Eyed Girl, TB Sheets is the first great Morrison immersion: 10 minutes of crawling, bloodied blues, sticky with the sweet stench of decay. Taking cues from gnarled old death songs like TB Blues, Morrison conjures something entirely idiosyncratic. The “Julie baby” dying of tuberculosis was, according to various sources, either an old high school friend, his London landlady or a work of fiction. Whoever she may be, Morrison delivers us, with unremitting focus, into her fetid room, creating a suitably claustrophobic, choking musical backdrop of stabbing organ, stinging blues licks and searing harmonica. His agitated death-watch veers between compassion (“I cried for you”), impatience (“I gotta go, I’ll send somebody around later”), awkward empathy, guilt and mortal dread. When words fail, he snuffles at the window like a hunted boar. When the recording was over – apparently; perhaps apocryphally – Morrison burst into tears. Not an easy listen, but grimly unforgettable.

Them

Every Van Morrison collection needs something from Them. Both of their albums, The Angry Young Them and Them Again, were recently reissued, but if you manage to find one of the many compilations out there, you get the bonus of their non-album singles like “Baby, Please Don’t Go” and “Richard Cory.”

In the two years they were together (1964 – 1966), Them recorded garage rock classics like “Gloria” and “Here Comes the Night.” The blues rock of his youth remains part of Morrison’s career even now, although tightened up considerably. Them’s music is an important document of a burgeoning young rock star about to become the Van Morrison we all know today.


J. ERIC SMITH

Slow molasses drip under a tipped-up crescent moon.

THE PRESS | Music Reviews

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Getintothis

Liverpool Music Blog

Born To Listen

to Rock, Country, Blues & Jazz

Blabber 'n' Smoke

A Glasgow view of Americana and related music and writings.

The Music Files

Rewind the Review

If My Records Could Talk

A stroll down memory lane through my music collection

The Fat Angel Sings

the best music of yesterday today and the tomorrow, every era every genre

Fuzzy Sun

noisy psychedelic music blog

TWELVE INCH

Embracing new and established sounds

Balloon machine

A love affair with alternative & DIY MUSIC

Just Played

Enthusing about records

TURN UP THE VOLUME!

Dope Blog For Music Junkies And Gig Addicts

afyccim

for all of the albums you should have heard

ROCK THE PIGEON

Arts. Culture. News. Community.

intuneandintime

It's Always About The Music

PowerPop... An Eclectic Collection of Pop Culture

An Eclectic Collection of Pop Culture

immersed in cool music

new day, new music

poppedmusic

new music, videos and reviews. Copyright Popped Music

The Fortnightly Playlist

Sharing music discoveries every 2 weeks

David James Young

Australian music/arts writer, EST. 2008

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