Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Van Morrison - The Healing Game (1997)


  

Released March 1997

Recorded in Dublin

Van Morrison is once more on a nostalgia trip here, on way is a mighty uplifting and impressive album. He looks back to the days of harmonious singing in the streets on the vibrant, soulful "The Healing Game", to the Belfast of his childhood on the evocative, rhythmically insistent "Burning Ground" and gets all reflective on the gorgeous, "Stand By Me"-influenced "It Once Was My Life" and the beautiful, sensitive "Sometimes We Cry". On "If You Love Me" he uses fifties early rock'n'roll "doo-wop" harmony backing vocals to bring back memories of those days gone by and "those ancient streets" that he is always trying desperately and emotionally to recall. Indeed, these latter three tracks all contain a nostalgic them for the late fifties in their musical structure and delivery.

The album is packed full of strident horns, saxophones, harmonious facing vocals, organ breaks and sumptuous piano. It is Van Morrison's own brand of soul. While not of the upbeat "Celtic Soul" of the seventies, it is Morrison soul updated for the nineties and it is slightly slower-paced and stately in its execution. There is also some touching self-examination in "This Weight" and, of course, spiritual concerns are never far from the surface, raising their holy heads on the wonderful, horn-driven and exhilarating "Rough Guide Goes Riding" and "Waiting Game", in which Morrison claims to be a "serpent filled with venom". He talks of "golden autumn days" and searching for a "higher flame". Traditional Morrison conceits if ever there were.

The mystical side to his nature is also never far away and it is here on the simply lovely "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn", with its beautiful chorus refrain and the use of the Celtic Uilleann pipes.  It is my favourite song on the album. Van evokes the spirit of "the great God Pan" and speaks of "the wind in the willows and the piper at the gates of dawn...". Great mystical stuff. "Fire In The Belly" has Van in familiar rustic mode, speaking of the seasons - "Got to get through January, got to get through February...". He loves nature and the changing of the seasons. Songs like this from him I find irresistible. Just listen to that saxophone and backing vocals on the oh-so-sulful "The Healing Game" as well, which closes the album. Magnificent. Van raises me higher, yet again.

The bold saxophone from Pee Wee Ellis drives this album in so many ways, so much so that I think of this as "the one with all the vibrant saxophone on it". It is here, also the the black outfit with black hat gets a second outing on the cover, after having done so on "Days Like This". It has been his trademark look ever since. I would also say that this possibly the last album not to follow the "r'n'b by numbers" route that most subsequent albums have taken. Not that I dislike those albums, because I appreciate them all, but this could well have been the last truly original Van Morrison album.

B

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