Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Van Morrison & The Chieftains - Irish Heartbeat (1988)


Released in March 1988

Recorded at Windmill Studios, Dublin

This was a collaboration between Van Morrison and legendary, veteran Irish traditional band The Chieftains. It is, in my opinion, success. I have read some critics say that it doesn't quite work because Morrison sings, at times, in his unique style and injects his "Van-isms" into some of the vocals. So he should, as far as I'm concerned. It is what gives the album its appeal. Pretty much, however, it is played straight. The traditional Irish songs are not turned into upbeat, R'n'B or Celtic Soul versions, they are delivered authentically.


1. Star Of The County Down
2. Irish Heartbeat
3. Ta Mo Chleamhnas Deanta
4. Raglan Road
5. She Moved Through The Fair
6. I'll Tell Me Ma
7. Carrickfergus
8. Celtic Ray
9. My Lagan Love
10. Marie's Wedding

"Star Of The Country Down" is a classic example of this. It sounds excellent, and Morrison's voice gives it enhanced appeal. Conversely, the two Morrison originals on the album - "Irish Heartbeat" and "Celtic Ray" are really invigorated by the use of traditional Irish instruments, like the Irish-style flute and the bodhran. They both sound great. "Ta Mo Chleamhnas Deanta" is beautiful and it is evocative and moving hearing good old Van enjoying himself, joining in with the male and female traditional Irish voices. He has come home. I love it.

As for "Raglan Road", it is one of my favourite Van Morrison songs of all time. The soul he gives to his vocal delivery is something very few people could do. It is just marvellous. When he whispers "listen" and proceeds to sing "on Grafton Street in November" it sends shivers down my spine. By the end of the song I am almost in tears. Van exhorts "alright" and the assembled Irish instruments kick in. My God, that is such a moment. I deny anyone not to be lifted by it. When he goes "full on Van" around 2.35 it is a spiritual experience. Then he lowers it down - "..shhhh...". Holy music. Only Van can do this. Only Van. If I am around when Van finally leaves this earth, it is this I will turn to in tribute.

"She Moved Through The Fair" is haunting and beautiful, Celtic and mystical. The way Morrison and The Chieftains' vocalists interweave is superb. "I'll Tell Me Ma" is an upbeat, lively traditional Irish folky number, with a totally addictive bodhran and flute rhythm. "Carrickfergus" is another well-known number that Morrison just raises to the Heavens. As I mentioned earlier, "Celtic Ray" is even better than the version on "Beautiful Vision" in some ways. It is more Celtic in its airs. actually the original probably jus edges it, but this one is a good one. "My Lagan Love" is another haunting, flute introduced number with a mysterious, mournful Morrison vocal. It suffers a bit at the end as Van goes just a little bit "Listen To The Lion", but it is the only time on the album.

"Marie's Wedding" is a lively fiddle-driven romp to end what has been a most enjoyable and interesting album.


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