Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Van Morrison - Avalon Sunset (1989)

  

Released June 1989

Recorded in various UK Studios

TRACK LISTING

1. Whenever God Shines His Light
2. Contacting My Angel
3. I'd Love To Write Another Song
4. Have I Told You Lately
5. Coney Island
6. I'm Tired Joey Boy
7. When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God
8. Orangefield
9. Daring Night
10. These Are The Days

Just as Bob Dylan's Damascus moment in 1978-79 had shocked the music world and resulted in the release of three devotional Christian-themed albums, so Van Morrison's supposed conversion to evangelical "born again" Christianity similarly shocked people. Granted, he had been "Spiritual" on his albums now for many, many years. Had he converted to Buddhism, Scientology, or indulged in transcendental meditation, it would have been no surprise, but to declare himself "born again" was a left field move, even for one as wilfully perverse as Morrison. His brief flirtation with this form of Christianity came after meeting Cliff Richard, but although Cliff was impressed with Morrison's initial zeal, he eventually came to doubt that Van was serious enough about his faith. Either way, Richard duetted with Van on the blatantly religious "Whenever God Shines His Light", to great effect, actually. Many people have derided the song, and the collaboration. Not me. I have always loved it. Richards' voice is crystal clear and a perfect foil for Morrison's gruff growl. The song has rhythm, soul and some great hooks. Lay off it - it's good.

The album also sold well, and saw Morrison grabbing a little bit of the mainstream. I knew people back then who certainly were not Morrison fans, yet they had "Avalon Sunset" in their CD collection, alongside their Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Elton John and Bruce Springsteen's "Born In The USA". I aways found that rather strange - why this but not "Poetic Champions' Compose" or "Hymns To The Silence"? "Have I Told You Lately?" has become well known due to Rod Stewart's more than acceptable cover of it. Morrison's original shows that, like "Someone Like You" on the previous album, he can write a straight-up love song. The keyboard-replicated wave sounds at the beginning are most atmospheric. It is simply a beautiful song. Funnily enough, in his Christian theme, the song could easily be addressed to God. Maybe it was.

"Contacting My Angel" is a meditative piece that sounds as if it should have been on "Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart". Morrison growls some of his vocals and fetchingly whispers some of the rest of it, talking of a "little village", a theme he would revisit later in his career. It is all a bit stream of consciousness. "I'd Love To Write Another Song" features Georgie Fame, who was beginning a long recording relationship with Morrison here. It is jazzy and jaunty - saxophone, brass and rhythmic shuffling drums. Morrison would do a lot more songs like this over the next twenty-five years.

"Coney Island" is a wonderful little oddity. A short melody that has Morrison reciting memories of earlier days on the Northern Irish coast. He speaks the words and it is all intensely personal. It gets you thinking "he's not such a bad bloke after all, he'd be ok on a trip to Coney Island" as he ruminates on "autumn sunshine magnificent..and all shining through..". "I'm Tired Joey Boy" is a moving and mournful Irish lament that is most endearing. Short but very sweet and uplifting. "When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God?" is the album's other big, essentially spiritual song, which sees Morrison questioning his own ability to meet the demands of his faith. It is slow, tuneful and dignified, appropriately. "Orangefield" is another beautifully orchestrated piece of Van nostalgia, "Cyprus Avenue"-style for the sleepy Belfast neighbourhoods of his innocent youth.

Now, then comes "Daring Night". A true Morrison classic as he evokes "the Lord of the Dance" and "the Goddess of the Eternal Wisdom" in a most "new age" way for a born again Christian. The backing slowly rises to meet Morrison's challenge, organ swirling, drums pounding, keyboards clanking. Morrison whispers "don't let go. don't let go" and then goes all spontaneous. Marvellous stuff. I remember driving through County Cork on holiday with this playing full volume. "These Are The Days" is one of those almost hymnal songs he often uses to close an album. It is a song with a sanctified, holy feel about it, just sublime and achingly beautiful. The soulful, gospelly "na-na-na" fade out vocal seem so right, as well, as the great man leaves another album, his listeners well satisfied.

The bonus track on the remastered CD is an uplifting, entrancing slowed down version of "When The Saints Go Marching In", which I love dearly. I love the bit where Morrison growls "St Francis of Asissi comes marching in...". Gets me all tearful.

B


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