Against the Safeway's supermarket in the rain....
Released July 1972
Recorded in San Francisco
Running time 41.12
This, Van Morrison’s sixth studio album (or the fifth if you don’t count Blowin’ Your Mind) is a mixture of the swinging, jaunty, horn-driven and folky Celtic soul of Moondance and Street Choir and of the lengthy, extended, spiritual material that would characterise much of his later work. Two of the tracks are very long and employ the almost ad hoc “stream of consciousness” lyrics that Morrison would use on later albums like Common One. The other tracks are lively and almost poppy at times, so it is an intriguing mix of an album.
1. Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaven When You Smile)
3. I Will Be There
4. Listen To The Lion
5. Saint Dominic's Preview
6. Redwood Tree
7. Almost Independence Day
It starts with the soul/pop of Jackie Wilson Said with its infectious and catchy “da-da-da-da-dah” opening refrain. It almost sounds too light and airy for most of the rest of the album. Gypsy is a song that returns to common Morrison ground of celebrating nature’s beauty, over a jazzy upbeat rock /folk backing, with the trademark horns as well. I Will Be There is a piano-led, jazzy, Ray Charles-inspired upbeat blues. It also contains an excellent Jack Schroer saxophone solo.
Listen To The Lion is a beautifully bass-led, slow-paced reflective eleven minute workout that has Morrison almost ad-libbing his vocals - sometimes singing, sometimes growling, shouting, using the old blues repetition technique, then some jazz scat, and finally roaring like a lion at times. In many ways, it is a bit of a difficult listen, but in other ways it is a remarkable track. From about half way through, there are not really too many words, apart from “listen to the lion, inside of me”, and some bits about "sailing to Denmark". I love the first seven or eight minutes, but to be honest, it has never been one of my favourites of his, finding it far too long and at times a little irritating in Van’s delivery. However, I am not blind to its good points. The bass lines are superb as is the general atmosphere. It is played immaculately and just keeps up the never-ending intensity. Actually, you know, listening to it again, I am feeling far more inclined to it. Maybe therein lies its strength. I have found my own inner lion.
On to my favourite track, though. Saint Dominic's Preview is a mix of all sorts of things. It is lengthy, but soulful, varied and never one-dimensional. There are lyrical references to Van’s Belfast childhood, Edith Piaf, San Francisco, Hank Williams, his teenage days, his time cleaning windows, even the “Safeway Supermarket”. There are mentions of his new-found fame - “the record company has paid out for the wine”. All over a lively, addictive Celtic soul-style beat. It has a wonderful instrumental backing build up, just like Listen To The Lion, but far more lyrical inspiration. The best track on the album, for me. Also, one of Van Morrison's best ever. Incidentally, the lyric "flags and emblems" was used as an album title by Northern Irish punk band Stiff Little Fingers. Redwood Tree is my next choice. It is a captivating and upbeat song celebrating Morrison’s new life in California, being at one with nature and just enjoying life in general. Melodic, uplifting and soulful, it is one of Morrison’s most hopeful, positive and carefree songs. One of his great Celtic Soul numbers.
Almost Independence Day is the other stream of consciousness long number. It is said to be, by some, a sequel to 1968’s monumental Madame George. Not for me it isn’t. It doesn’t come remotely close. It has the sound of an extended studio jam, experimenting with Moog synthesiser foghorn sounds and the like. It just doesn’t quite work as far as I’m concerned. The crystal clear acoustic guitar is impressive, the bass is once again superb and Morrison lends "live" vocal feeling to it, but after about six or seven of its ten minutes, I begin to tire of it., just a little. I read somewhere of a critic saying that the contemporarily-recorded Wonderful Remark should have taken its place. I have to say I agree. One Listen To The Lion is enough. I much prefer Lion of the two extended tracks. The album, therefore, as a whole, is a bit of an odd one, as four of the tracks are quite short and two are so rambling and long so it doesn't have either the soulful punchiness of His Band And The Street Choir or the deliberately long, spiritual feeling of Common One. All that said, these are just personal, somewhat superficial opinions. The album is still up there in Morrison's top ten.