"If it weren't for guys like Ray Charles and Solomon Burke, I wouldn't be where I am today. Those guys were the inspiration that got me going. If it wasn't for that kind of music, I couldn't do what I'm doing now" - Van MorrisonI initially became aware of Van Morrison in the mid seventies, because my friend's older sister had the Brown Eyed Girl single from 1967. I loved that, and also, as a result of David Bowie's cover of Here Comes The Night on 1973's Pin Ups, checked out Them's original version of it, which she also had. From then, though, he sort of passed me by as punk and new wave took over my angry young spirit, until I was walking through Piccadilly Circus one hot afternoon in the early eighties. I went into "Our Price" record shop ( I could show you where it used to be, but it is long gone now, of course) and they were playing this great song - really soulful and with a supremely evocative vocal. I asked the assistant who it was. The song was Crazy Love from Morrison's Moondance album. I duly "got into" Morrison and starting exploring his back catalogue - mainly the early stuff, Moondance and His Band And The Street Choir. Then I started enjoying his more mystical material like Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart. I have been with him ever since, through his various journeys - spiritualism, Christianity, jazz, blues, soul, Caledonian soul - he has been putting out albums very year or so for decades now and I am always able to get something out of all of them.
Many have accused him of being formulaic, particularly in his later years. I see him more as trustworthy and honest. You know what you're going to get and if you like it then you'll be fine. The same theory applies to his live performances. On stage banter is a kept to a non-existent level. Good. Just play your sublime music.
The man is, of course, a "complex" character - almost simultaneously giving and generous yet mind-bogglingly mean-spirited. A great quote is that you can still really like his music despite having met him. I should know, my Father was the same sort of man. The thing is, when those characters choose to give, they have so much there to enrich our lives. Van Morrison is one of those people.
Spanish Rose has a jaunty, Sandie Shaw-type melody, some Spanish guitar and a Latin-ish finger-popping rhythm. Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye) is very Rolling Stones, circa 1965-1966 influenced piece of blues pop with some impressive guitar parts. The tracks on this album have mid sixties Dylan and Rolling Stones all over them.
Ro Ro Rosey is a pumping, upbeat (again Stonesy) sort of Brown Eyed Girl meets Gloria. It is another one that has many echoes of Them about it. Indeed, if you did not know, you would say it was Them. Who Drove The Red Sports Car is a wonderful slice of early Morrison bassy, slow grinding blues. Morrison is particularly impressive on the "ad hoc" vocal improvisation at the end. The album ends with a harmonica-drenched cover of Midnight Special. Every now and again, Morrison plays this live, or on Jools Holland's show. It is played rockingly here, with some razor-sharp guitar. You know, I have been pleasantly surprised digging this album out again.
Morrison was now, in 1968, moving clearly away from the fast-paced rhythm and blues that had characterised his output while part of the beat group, Them, and some of his solo recordings from 1967. Rather than going “psychedelic” like so many other groups and artists, Morrison was starting out on a long journey into self-awareness, spirituality and mysticism that would dominate so many of his recordings for many years to come. He was now inspired and motivated by poetry, philosophy, the arts, the countryside and the great works of literature. Musically, his love of jazz, folk and soul would come to the forefront and he would develop a new style of vocal that often involved repetition of single refrains many times - “just a like a, just a like a, just a like a, just a like a, just a like a, like a ballerina...” or however many times he repeated it. It could, in my opinion, get irritating at times, but it was certainly unique and gave his vocals a real recognisability.
Lyrically, that good old chestnut, “streams of consciousness” always rears its head when Astral Weeks is discussed, and, it has to be said that a lot of the lyrics have no obvious meaning or point of connection. They just express a series of feelings, images and characters. A good example is my personal favourite track, and one of Morrison’s finest of all time - the intriguing, perplexing Madame George. Just what was it all about? Does it really matter? It just has a great feel - slowly brooding, a wonderful jazz/soul backing and Morrison’s mystifying lyrics. Every bit of it is sensational. When Morrison first sings “down Cyprus Avenue..” it still sends tingles down the spine. I also love the percussion and flute fade out. Just eight minutes of soulful redemption. Incidentally, Marianne Faithfull did an absolutely stirring, evocative version too.
The album was recorded by jazz session musicians not previously known to Morrison, or familiar with his music. They were in a studio and Morrison was in a booth with his acoustic guitar. Nevertheless it worked to a tee. The instrumentation is fantastic throughout. To this day, apparently, the identity of the flautist remains unknown.
The melodic bass introduces us, with a lovely harpsichord refrain underpinning it, to the wonderful Cyprus Avenue. Morrison gets all nostalgic about a street from his youth and some stunning violin joins in. Yet another magnificent track. Morrison is in complete control here, despite being in another room.
The Way That Young Lovers Do is a jaunty, brass-driven, jazzy short sharp piece of fun that many feel is incongruous in the context of the album. I disagree. It livens things up a little. Don’t worry. Madame George is coming. I remember hearing DJ Robert Elms introducing it on the radio once and he simply said “this is a mighty, mighty record”. He was right. I can’t listen to it without getting all watery-eyed. Those cymbals at the end and Morrison vocalising us out, on that train. Just heavenly. Morrison repeats “in the back street” quite a bit on Madame George. Maybe there was something in his “Bruce Springsteen stole some of my lines” claim after all.
seems almost “live”, as if they just improvised on the spot, which, apparently is something close to the truth. The beat remains ever insistent - acoustic rhythm, bass, percussion. Just intoxicating. It sounds great in the latest 2015 remaster. As indeed does all the album. Van sings as he did on It’s Too Late To Stop Now, in total control, yet sounding so spur of the moment. In some ways, parts of this are the best bits on the album.
** PS - the extras include some “alternate takes”. The take of Madame George is enjoyable but I prefer the original. Ballerina, however, is excellent, with some big, booming saxophone parts. Slim Slow Slider is great too, bassier, I think, with some nice clarinet(?).
Moondance is a marvellous album. Not a duff track on it. Seriously. It is packed full of energy, soul, atmosphere, vitality and excellent musicianship from beginning to end. This 2013 remaster is truly outstanding. As good a reproduction as I have ever heard it - balanced, warm, crystal clear and punchy.
Then comes Moondance, known by many these days. Very jazzy and open to many different jazz interpretations. It has an infectious feel to it. Irresistibly rhythmic. The bass is beautiful on this remaster, the acoustic guitar so clear. Just such a joy to listen to.
is a copper-bottomed Morrison classic. Full of gypsy imagery about a bucolic travelling life on the road and delivered in that unique Celtic soul style that Morrison was making his own. It is impeccable from beginning to end. That bit around 2.32 when Van says "the caravan is painted red and white" and then a bit later when he tells us to "turn up your radio". And then the horns kick in. If that is not musical perfection I don't know what is.
Brand New Day. Oh my. One of my favourite Van Morrison songs. A wonderful gospel soul sound. Great verses building up to that killer chorus with its energising, uplifting effect whenever you hear it. To say it is life affirming is actually a bit of an understatement. Lovely piano underpinning it, as indeed on a lot of the album. I am running out of superlatives for this album and just seem to be repeating myself. Everyone has some melodic, almost Elizabethan-style swirling keyboards to introduce what is an energetic and exhilarating song. Glad Tidings ends things hopefully and soulfully and, once again, in an upbeat manner. What a bass line to begin with. Another of my favourites. This has been a very positive, refreshing album. Even the more soulful songs are certainly not mournful. There is a lot of joie de vivre on the album. It never fails to lift the spirits.
** Non-album music from the sessions of the time are the rarity I Shall Sing - an upbeat, enthusiastic slightly Caribbean-sounding number that was impressively covered by reggae artists Toots & The Maytals on their 1976 album Reggae Got Soul and an outtake cover of Jimmy Cox's 1923 blues Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out. It is a good outtake, however, with a fine vocal from Morrison and a jazz/blues piano backing
As regards the title of the album, it certainly is a clunker. Wordy and clumsy. However, when I was first properly getting into Van in the early 1980s, - checking out his back catalogue - it was the album's name which caught my eye - something seemingly credible about the name "street choir" I guess. Sounded sort of Springsteen-ish, I thought at the time.
Old, Old Woodstock is laid-back, tender and quite beautiful. Lovely gentle bass line on it. It is an appealing slice of slow-paced soul-bluesy rock. Far more reflective and low-key than anything on the previous album. Van ruminates on his peaceful, rustic life with his woman and child on the farm. He sounds a man very much at one with himself. Bob Dylan would do similar on the following year's New Morning. He also lived in the same part of the USA.
It has a lovely piano bit in the middle too. Even on a comparatively understated track like this, however, Morrison still owns the track, his vocals rising confidently above the impeccable backing. Starting A New Life is a cornerstone for the themes on the album. All country harmonica and acoustic guitar it celebrates exactly what the title says. It is nice and peaceful but it doesn’t hit you between the eyes, but then that was presumably not the intention of this album. You're My Woman is a solid, potent bluesy rock ballad in praise of Van’s woman - the enigmatic Janet Planet. There is some excellent saxophone at the track’s climax. Some critics have had a problem with Morrison’s supposedly macho approach to “his woman”. Personally, I don’t. It was a song of its time. It was a blues song. Nothing to get too irked about. Because there are no copper-bottomed Morrison classics on this album (apart from the title track), it is easy to overlook it in comparison with Moondance or St. Dominic’s Preview, which does it a bit of a disservice. There is some good material on here.
Tupelo Honey. Simply in my top five Van Morrison songs of all time. Big, dramatic, romantic, soulful. It has the lot. “She’s as sweet as Tupelo Honey, she’s an angel of the first degree…”. Does it get much better? Maybe - try “men with insight, men in granite….”. This magnificent, moving, inspirational track is packed full of classic moments. Jack Schroer’s saxophone against the ring guitar chords for one. The twin acoustic solos in the middle part. Just blooming beautiful. Then Van returns - “you can’t stop us on the road to freedom…” Oh my, you grumpy old deity. You lift my soul at times.
Country pleasures return with the Dylanesque (Self Portrait era) and acoustic I Wanna Roo You. When The Evening Sun Goes Down is even more country rock-ish, sounding just like The Band, Leon Russell and early Elton John. It has echoes of the country material Morrison would record years later on Pay The Devil. In the past I have tended to dismiss these last few tracks, being so blown away by the title track, but listening to them again reveals hidden joys. Moonshine Whiskey's pedal steel guitar and catchy refrain continues the straw-bale hoedown feel, although Van gets all soulful in the middle when he serenades his “Texas sweetheart, all the way from Arkansas…”. Even in this jaunty country number he gets some classic Celtic soul Morrison-isms into it. This is an often underrated Van Morrison album. Yes, it is no Astral Weeks or Moondance but it is worthy of more than just the occasional listen. I am glad I dug it out again.
** PS - the alternative version of Wild Night included on the remaster is excellent. You also get Van's lively take on the gospel of Down By The Riverside.
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.
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.
Warm Love is an entrancing romantic number with some lovely flute backing and a tender vocal from Morrison. Hard Nose The Highway is one of those typical brassy soulful tracks but not as upbeat as on previous albums. Morrison’s soul is now much slower in pace, still brass-dominated, but nowhere near as flighty. When Van goes into the “further on up the road” voice part, it sounds almost like a live recording, the type of which would appear on the It’s Too Late To Stop Now album.
Bein' Green is a song from the children’s TV programme Sesame Street and was sung by future muppet, Kermit The Frog. Morrison turns it into a Ray Charles-style soul ballad, most convincingly. Autumn Song is a beautiful, extended, ten minute slice of Morrison laid-back jazz rock. Some critics are dissatisfied with this song. I disagree. It has an affecting ambience and its musicianship is excellent. It just sort of washes over you like a warm bath. Ideal for an early autumn evening. Maybe it should have ended two minutes before it did, but I can live with that. It is worth thinking upon that, amongst the seriously great and diverse albums released in 1973, this is one of those rarely mentioned, yet it is one of the most ahead of its time, both musically and lyrically.
Caledonian air, Purple Heather, given the orchestrated Morrison treatment. Some great violin on this track and some ad hoc style scat vocals. This proved to be a little-mentioned but important album in the musical and thematic development of Van Morrison as an artist. Many future albums would follow its lead.
Morrison is often sentimental about his homeland and also ruminates upon emigration on several occasions. He had been away, in effect, since 1967, remember. These are very Irish songs. Mysterious, mystical and beguiling. The short Who Was That Masked Man? is in a similar mode, its meaning unclear and somewhat perplexing. Personal favourites are the enigmatic Linden Arden Stole The Highlights - a track beloved of Elvis Costello - and the totally delightful, upbeat Bulbs. Also the somewhat ponderous but very appealing Fair Play, with its very Irish turn of phrase. Apparently Morrison got the lyric from an Irish friend who was always saying “fair play to you”. Check out that lovely deep bass line and its interplay with the acoustic guitar and tinkling "waterfall" piano notes.
Cul-De-Sac is a slow, soulful but dramatic Morrison classic too, rarely mentioned in any “best of” lists. David Bowie was seen as a great innovator when he recorded white soul like this a year later on Young Americans. Morrison was leading the way here, unnoticed by many. Comfort You is lovely, a bit of a throwback to the romantic, bucolic feeling of 1972's Tupelo Honey album. It features some sumptuous bass/cymbals and strings. It is another little-mentioned gem of a song.
Moondance, His Band and St. Dominic’s Preview this album is rather more like Hard Nose The Highway in its being far closer to Astral Weeks than any of the upbeat, vibrant, Celtic soul albums that came after that stunning debut. It is a reflective album, that is for sure, and thoroughly beautiful in so many ways.
Morrison himself has pretty much disowned the material on here, which is a shame as it is an album that has a definite “feel” to it - mid evening and thoughtful. as I mentioned earlier, tracks from here rarely appear on “best of” compilations. I find it always worth dipping into every now and again. The sound is a bit hissy at times, but it doesn’t seem to matter, really. It is probably quite a credible thing if asked to name your favourite Van Morrison album to say Veedon Fleece.
The Eternal Kansas City starts with some choral backing vocals fading in, in the style of Bob Dylan’s All The Tired Horses, but eventually Van kicks in and it becomes an enjoyable, melodic soul and jazz romp that is better than many say. Similarly, Joyous Sunset has a vibrant, energetic jazz soul groove and some lively saxophone. Morrison would continue to turn material like this out for years. It is not much different in essence to Hey Mr DJ or Precious Time, which were critically acclaimed from albums many years later.
has a sumptuous brass backing and a confident vocal from an. It would not have sounded out of place on 1979’s Into The Music. It has that semi-funky Cleaning Windows guitar sound. Much of the musical themes introduced on this album would continue to be used by Morrison for years afterwards. This was almost seeing the musical tone for nearly forty years of music. Heavy Connection was another horn-driven, “la-la-la” hooky laid-back but potent piece of swing soul. Some good lyrics and a hint to the past in its soul feel. Would have been ok on Street Choir. It has an excellent saxophone solo in it.
Cold Wind In August is redolent of 1973’s Hard Nose The Highway album and ends the all too short album (seven tracks and 33 minutes) on a gospelly high note. All female backing vocals and rising horns. More sumptuous saxophone to be found here. Morrison’s “pushing through September in the rain” is inspired. My goodness, this is a superb track. He always comes up with at least one of those inspirational moments on every album. You can rely on that. You know, listening to it again, this little-mentioned album is not too bad at all. It is just not quite a work of genius.
Checkin' It Out is what would now prove to be typical Van Morrison soul -a strong, emotive, instinctive vocal, potent horns, swirling organ riffs and a semi-funky lilting guitar. This is another instantly appealing song. Whatever one’s views about the previous album, and mine are more positive than negative, this is by far the more accessible and commercial album. There is a point at the end of this track when Morrison sings “almost live”, just as he would in a Iive concert. Leading the band in the direction he wants to go.
(pictured) has a funky, staccato guitar riff and some soulful organ breaks and another effortlessly nonchalant vocal. The “dum de dum dum” chorus refrain is a little off-putting but it is initially followed by an accordion-sounding keyboard solo and a general upbeat good time feel that pervades throughout the song. Sometimes, for one so naturally grumpy, Van Morrison can sing with such joy. It is quite remarkable. There is something bright and summery about the whole of this album. Lifetimes is a gentle, mid-paced piece of soul rock that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Hard Nose The Highway, 1987’s Poetic Champions Compose or indeed on Enlightenment from 1990. Some attractive Elizabethan-style keyboards at the end of it.
Wavelength starts with a high-pitched Astral Weeks -style vocal over a plaintive organ and piano before a metronomic drum kicks in, a disco-style synthesiser and some guitar riffage. Its double handclap is, I am sure, where Bob Geldof got the idea from to use them in The Boomtown Rats’ I Don’t Like Mondays the following year. It really rocks and cooks, this song. Soulful “doo-doo” backing vocals and a captivating lively beat throughout. The title is one of the first of many homages Morrison would pay to the radio he loved listening to as a teenager.
Take It Where You Find It is just glorious. Majestic. Magnificent. Whatever other superlatives you want to throw its way. The intro alone sends shivers down my spine. The rolling drumbeats, the keyboards, the crystal clear acoustic guitars, Van’s voice. Yes, Van’s voice. Heavenly. The song divides into roughly three parts. The part where it suddenly quietens down two thirds of the way through (5.04), Van quietly growls “change come over” in his Belfast brogue and the backing vocalists oh so sweetly repeat the same “change come over” line brings tears to my eyes. Seriously. One of my favourite moments in music. Ever. Period. I have nothing more to say after that. Sublime. I’m going to walk down the street until I see my shining light…..
Apparently Morrison would walk through fields in the Costwolds, where he was living at the time, acoustic guitar in hand, composing songs as he walked. He looks back on the album positively (something that not all of his albums receive) viewing it as the point "when I got back into it - that's why I called it "Into The Music...". It is clearly a happy, vibrant album, full of lively, upbeat songs.
Some of the spiritual themes from 1974's Veedon Fleece found their way in to this album. "Among the rolling hills, I'll live my life in Him..." he proclaimed on Rolling Hills, being overtly Christian for one of the first times, and "Full Force Gale" saw him "lifted up by the Lord...".
Stepping Out Queen, the Irish, folky Troubadours and the slow, soulful Angelou are just as intoxicating, but, for me, the album’s masterpiece is When The Healing Has Begun, an eight minute slab of majestic Morrison slow burning but passionate Celtic soul. Great verses abound about “putting on red dresses” and “wearing easter bonnets and all the rest” while Morrison growls “I want to make love to you - yes, yes, yes!”. There is a point a few minutes in, when he loses himself and, between verses, starts whooping with sheer joy and you think “blimey, the old bugger is actually enjoying himself”. Near the end there is a wonderful spoken bit before it builds to a monumental climax. Magnificent. The "backstreet jellyroll" references often subsequently used by Morrison began here. He also referenced Muddy Waters, returning home from a gig and making music with a violin and two guitars. He is addressing all of his muses at once - musicians, lovers, musical instruments and nature itself.
It's All In The Game/You Know What They're Writing About was a reflective, verging on streams of consciousness ending to one of Morrison's best albums. It was spiritual, it was cheerful, it was sad, it was soulful. There were many different ambiences on this album, which was rare, as they usually ploughed one distinct furrow.
"....No wonder the rock critics of the time didn't get it; this is music outside the pop mainstream, and even Morrison's own earlier musical territory. But it retains its trancelike power to this day...."
Summertime In England is a fifteen minute journey that sees Morrison imagining the legendary poets Wordsworth and Coleridge “smoking up in Kendal” in the Lake District (pictured), as well as William Blake and T.S. Eliot, while musing on Avalon and the Church of St John, amongst other things. Some would say it is indulgent, and indeed it is lengthy, but somehow it is never tiresome. Morrison is just in the spiritual groove and you just go with it. It is actually quite a shuffling rhythmic track. Listen to that addictive drum, guitar and organ intro. Just wonderful.The laid-back, melodic Wild Honey finds Morrison at his bucolic best, celebrating nature and “where the hillside rolls down to the sea”. When Heart Is Open, another fifteen minute opus, has him asking that someone “hand me down my big boots”. It is far more slow-paced and reflective than the (comparatively) livelier Summertime In England, having similarities with Almost Independence Day from the St. Dominic's Preview album from 1972. It remains at the same tranquil pace throughout, Van occasionally rousing himself for the "big boots" request, but otherwise it is sleepy and soothing.
is a gentle, organ-based, catchy soulful piece that sticks in your head despite its peaceful melody and the opener, Haunts Of Ancient Peace is typically ethereal. Spiritual images abound in pretty much every song. Particularly in this slow-paced, dreamy, reflective, almost solemn start to the album. The saxophone on this track is beautiful, as are the backing vocals. This is sublime music. The album should really be assessed as a complete one-off, not as part of any era. It was/is timeless. This was Van Morrison’s finest attempt to make truly holy music. He succeeded. Despite what so many have said, he really did.
Van was Van. He would carry on doing what he wanted to do, irrespective of contemporary fashion. He felt like livening things up with this album and, to a certain extent, resisting some of that Celtic soul that had proved so popular ten to twelve years earlier. In some respects, then, this album was something of a throwback. There were airs of the Caledonian Soul Orchestra is the use of vibrant horns once again and the (comparatively) shorter length of some of the songs. Four or five minutes is short compared to the two fifteen minute tracks that were part of Common One’s six tracks only. It is certainly not a r’n’b album either. The music is Celtic and jazzy in much of its ambience - Van was returning to his old Irish influences.
Cleaning Windows is a quirky addition - sort of funky and lively, it tells of the teenage Van’s time as a window cleaner, cleaning “number 36” while humming Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee blues songs in his head. Van namechecks so many blues and literary figures on this too. Again, it is infuriatingly catchy. No streams of consciousness here. Just fun. Yes, this, of all Van’s albums, is one of the most fun and generally happy. That is “Van happy” remember, which is probably not as happy as many of us.
is another stately, dignified, backing vocal enhanced anthem, this time to an unremarkable-looking flight of stairs in Copenhagen, Denmark. It is a very uplifting track, largely due to Van's vocal soaring above the sweet saxophone backing and the the gospel backing voices, which send shivers down the spine. (Photo of the Vanløse stairway by Onkle Ulle). Aryan Mist is a musically jaunty and vocally sleepier reflective number. Van goes on about “going to the river to get clean”, “gurus” and a “fog of confusion hanging over the world”, as if he is back on his spiritual journey. After this, things go a bit more contemplative with the soothing Across The Bridge Where Angels Dwell, which is a peaceful track that would not have been out of place on Common One. The album ends with the peaceful and soothing instrumental, Scandinavia, which maybe gives a hint as to the direction the next album would take.
(pictured) is one of those classic Morrison spoken pieces of nostalgia as Morrison speaks to the metaphysical poet of the title (pictured above) as well as Walt Whitman, Omar Khayyam, W.B. Yeats, empiricism, theosophy....you get the picture? Spoken against a sleepy saxophone and percussion backing that finally picks up pace at the end (although the live version does this more) it is, despite its obvious possible pretensions, a delight from beginning to end.
The Street Only Knew Your Name is a classic piece of Morrison soul. It wouldn't have sounded out of place on 1970's Street Choir. Insistent, melodic Celtic Soul. I read somewhere it was about Gene Vincent and indeed Be Bop A Lula, Boppin' The Blues and Who Slapped John are name checked in the fade out. Cry For Home is another uplifting, almost hymnal song with Van getting quite emotional. It is a beautiful song. These last three have been real classic pieces of Morrison soul. Almost effortlessly intense. Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart No. 2 adds some vocals, not many, but enough to just about turn it into a song. Not that it really matters, the voice almost becomes an instrument. "I'm a soul in wonder" growls Van over the sweet, gospelly backing vocals as the track fades out. Beautiful. September Night floats its instrumental tones around for five minutes or so to gently ease us out of this fundamentally peaceful and rewarding album. I have read somewhere the usual cliched criticisms of this album as being "elevator music". Yeah right. Do me a favour. That is unfair. I'd love it if I were in a lift and this came on.
What Would I Do is a slow, jazzy and soulful Ray Charles cover, and here, in Morrison's hands, it airs a spirituality the suits the nature of his recordings at this period in time. If you didn't know, you would think it was a Morrison composition. It suits him perfectly, the whole "see me through" theme.
canvas. It also includes this wonderful line - "you may call my love Sophia but I call my love philosophy...". Not long after that line, Van is musing about "pasty suppers down at Davy's chipper...". Only Van Morrison could come up with this.
** Included in the bonus material is Crazy Jane On God, which was based on a W.B. Yeats poem, but was withdrawn from the original album at the request of the Yeats estate. It is given an almost Celtic Soul meets R'n'B delivery with some slightly over-the-top female vocals. It is pleasant enough, however. Quite slowly infectious, in fact.
A new subject for Morrison to rail about on a regular basis from now on is "all those cats who ripped off my work". His slightly sour gripe is expressed on the rumbling, bassy and acoustic A Town Called Paradise, which also features some sumptuous saxophone and fetching backing vocals. It is one hell of an addictive slow cooker of a track. If he is moaning, who cares? Nobody moans as soulfully as Van Morrison. Strains of Jerusalem are heard in the fade out.
I saw Van in concert a while back, and he was performing In The Garden, at the point he was about to sing "wet with rain", a member of the audience bellowed out the line. Expecting notoriously grumpy Van to get irked, I was surprised when he half smiled and replied in his Belfast brogue - "yes, that's right - wet wit' reeyan..." before continuing the song, perfectly synchronised. You had to be there, I guess, but it was a marvellous moment.
Tir Na Nog comes next. A magnificent piece of Celtic/Irish nostalgia for the Church of Ireland and walking all the way to the mythical Tir Na Nog (pictured below). It is sung gracefully and proudly over an insistent, sweeping orchestral backing. It is a truly great track.
One Irish Rover is a gentle, Celtic low key refrain with Van reflecting on his journey. It has been a generally slow tempo album, but, strangely enough it ends with the really lively Celtic soul of Ivory Tower, with Van rocking it up over a punchy horn, harmonica and Duane Eddy guitar backing. He often starts his albums with tracks like this. Here he ends it with one, just for a change. That's Van for you.
Van Morrison underwent a spiritual quest, together with re-discovering his Irishness, he was back, giving us more. It was now becoming a well-trodden path, a bit like Bob Dylan’s “born again” period at the turn of the seventies/eighties. Were people beginning to tire of it just a bit? Maybe, but fans fans were now no longer the mainstream. They were happy to stick with him. After all it was getting on for twenty years now.
Now, however, a lot of the express spiritual search was over - Morrison was now looking inside himself and, to be fair, expressing some romantic feelings too. The Irishness remained, but largely in the ambience of the album’s three instrumentals. Much as Morrisons-post 2000 albums have ploughed the same furrow, this was more of the same. So, if you like it, as I do, you like it. You will get something out of it.
The Mystery sounds like a song from the Beautiful Vision album, full of backing vocals, sweeping strings and lyrics about mysticism. It is reflective, mature song, from a reflective, mature artist. Look at how old Morrison now looks on the cover. Can this balding, grumpy-looking old man release rock records? No. This is more of a work of art - a painting, or a poem, there has not been anything "rock" about Morrison for years now.
The Queen Of The Slipstream (whatever that meant, and whoever she was) is a delightfully atmospheric soulful number, sung against a delightful harp backing, with an addictive vocal refrain and just a great vibe throughout. It is a track I have loved for a long time. There is usually at least one classic on a Morrison album. This is the one here. Just those opening bars send the shivers all over me. It is a majestic, mighty track. Van never lets you down when it matters. A truly sumptuous bass and piano intro leads us into the lovely soul of I Forgot That Love Existed, which is another excellent song. It also contains a wonderful saxophone massage. Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child is an adaptation of an old Negro spiritual. It is sombre, mournful and sparse in its backing, somewhat unsurprisingly, given its derivation. Morrison tackles it emotively and respectfully. It is certainly no toe-tapper, but it has a credible, serious appeal. Celtic Excavation is a beautiful saxophone instrumental.
Someone Like You is actually a totally disarming, romantic number that has subsequently achieved a fair amount of mainstream, Radio Two, popularity. It is easy to understand why. He hadn’t done a blatant smoocher like this for quite a while, if indeed ever. Alan Watts Blues (who was Alan Watts?) is as Celtic Soul as Van gets on this album - a jaunty, light and lively piece of fun and a great vocal refrain - “cloud hidden...whereabouts unknown…’. There he goes, looking into himself, not searching for the spirits of long departed poets anymore. Give Me Rapture is a gospelly, organ and piano-backed piece of lively Van soul in the Real Real Gone vein (although that track was still three years away). Did Ye Get Healed, with its cute Irish girl’s voice at the end is another excellent track - all jazzy with an absolutely mesmeric instrumental hook. Love the backing vocals and the melodic saxophone and Van's gently mumbling, growling voice. Allow Me is another appealing saxophone instrumental to finish off. Pleasant album. I pretty much say that for all Van's albums, don't I? It's true though, they are.
Avalon Sunset (1989)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....
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.
(pictured) 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.
** 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.
has a shuffling, rock'n'roll rhythm and it sort of serves as a lively, upbeat companion to the bizarre but beguiling In The Days Before Rock 'n' Roll, with is probably Morrison's most odd track every recorded. An Irish poet, Paul Durcan, recites the names of fifties radio stations in a decidedly odd voice, adding a few other lines here and there about someone called "Justin" and bleeping keyboard noises initiating radio waves. I remember those radio stations from my Father's bulky old radio set - those atmospheric names - Hilversum, Athlone, Helvetia, Luxembourg. It is a complete oddity but I find it strangely compelling. Van does take part too, singing about betting on "Lester Piggott at ten to one...". I also love the bit where Van tells us in his gruff Belfast growl how "the killer came along... the killer....Jerry Lee Lewis..."Great Balls Of Fire"....". He loves a name check or two, does Van.
Start All Over Again is a groovy little jazz number, with some similarities to 1999's Back On Top. It has nice horns and keyboard vibes throughout. She's My Baby is a horn-backed slow romantic number, with Van telling us all about "his lady". He says seems to carry off these cheesy songs, though, somehow. So did the great soul singers, so he is in good company. It features a gorgeous organ solo from Georgie Fame. Memories is a beautiful, melodic closer. A tender, nostalgic vocal and some crystal clear acoustic guitar and mandolin, plus some Elizabethan-sounding keyboards underpinned by a sumptuous bass line. Lovely stuff.
For better or worse, it is a double album and suffers the fate of all double albums in that most agree that it could have been condensed into one album. Yes, the hymns are on there, but they add to the appeal of an album that is largely taken up with feelings of nostalgia for days gone by, and they fit the bill perfectly, as they provided a musical soundtrack for the young George Ivan Morrison. There are other blatantly nostalgic pieces on the album too and also examples of the world-weary, cynical, moaning Morrison, as he bellyaches about those within the music industry he perceives as having done him wrong.
is eight minutes of Van recalling carefree golden summer days, cold dark winter Sunday evenings, in the "days before rock'n'roll..." in an almost spoken vocal. He recalls "when life made more sense..". The complaining has stopped now, a few drinks would seem to have got him all misty-eyed and nostalgic and that is the theme of the rest of the album. Some classic harmonica is interjected in the middle and Van intones "take me back, take me back, take me way back...".
By His Grace starts what is, in effect "part two" of the album, the monumental Take Me Back having taken us to the interval. It is a lively, energetic and soulful spiritual but short track, with some nice gospelly backing vocals. If this is Van still being religious, I'll take it. All Saints Day is another of those fifties-style, organ-led jazzy numbers. Some are not to keen on them, but I feel they sit quite well in the whole "looking back to the days before rock'n'roll" theme. Georgie Fame takes the lead vocal with his trademark, smoky voice before Van joins in briefly, at the end.
After that slightly spiritual interlude the blues truly returns with a storming version of Them's sixties track, Gloria, featuring the veteran blues talents of the legendary John Lee Hooker. Van and Hooker mesh gloriously (so to speak) together. It is a superb duet. Big, bluesy, exciting and full of balls.
For Lonesome Road the jazzy ambience arrives, complete with a jaunty melody and the use of vibes on the backing. It is full of appeal, actually. The fifties, jazzy thing continues on the slightly clumsy, semi-spoken Moody's Mood For Love, this one doesn't quite work for me, I'm afraid. A bit too cheesy and "easy listening" for my liking. Close Enough For Jazz is a lively, jazzy instrumental that was reworked with a vocal on 2012's Born To Sing. Before The World Was Made is a lovely, gentle piece of jazzy soul. I'll Take Care Of You takes us back the blues with a slow burning cooker that goes back to the initial atmosphere of the album. There is one hell of a saxophone solo on the final extended instrumental, Tell Me What You Want, that has the vibes in use again as jazz, blues and Celtic soul all merge perfectly. This album has never quite got the credit it deserved, for some reason. In my opinion, it is an adventurous and slightly different album to many of those that had gone before. Not necessarily better, but just slightly different in tone and mood.
Van Morrison albums I own, that's all of them, this is one of those that I have always played the least. I know of no real reason for this. It has a superb sound quality and an appealing poppiness to a lot of the tracks. Certainly the two albums either side of this one - the bluesy Too Long in Exile and the soulful The Healing Game have always appealed to me more. That is the only real explanation I can offer.
No Religion has a great bass line, punchy horns and winning backing vocals with that "call and response" thing Van had going on with Brian Kennedy at the time. "I cleaned up my diction, I had nothing left to say..." sings Van. He continues on the next song to have plenty to say about Underlying Depression - he is never far from self-analysing. It has a crystal clear, almost perfect sound, but there is something in the faultless sound on this album that renders it just sightly less soulful than other albums, which is strange, because outwardly, the album is one of Morrison's most blatantly "soul" in its ambience.
Some jazzy vibes introduce the brassy Songwriter where Van tells us, with a somewhat cynical air, what he does for a living. Days Like This was a hit single with a delightful saxophone solo. I'll Never Be Free was another old crooner song cover, and another duet with Shana. Melancholia has Van ruminating on depression again and he des the vocal thing with Kennedy again. Once was ok, but twice and it starts to get a bit irritating as he literally repeats everything Morrison sings.
Ancient Highway sees Morrison going all mystical for the first time on this album, quoting Pagan Streams from Hymns To The Silence and various other Belfast things. He is "praying to his higher self" - this is No Guru, No Method, No Teacher stuff. It is good to hear him meet his true muse again as the flute whistles and he enters into a stream of consciousness about the mountains and the ancient highway. It probably lasts a bit too long, but they always do when he gets into a groove like this. In This Afternoon is a soulful, romantic number to finish off, with Kennedy doing his stuff again. Thankfully his presence on the next album was toned down, although he blights the A Night In San Francisco album somewhat.
Blues In The Night is a classic example of this. He has always been a big jazz fan, so you feel it is a labour of love for him. It has the feel of an evening in a smoky London club (Ronnie Scott's) in 1958 and is very enjoyable to listen to, particularly late at night. The sound quality is also absolutely superb. The cover is great too.
Mose Allison (save Look Here from The Clash's Sandinista! album, Young Man Blues from The Who and Bonnie Raitt's Everybody's Crying Mercy) and have this album because of the Van Morrison input, so I am basically seeing it from a Morrison point of view. He is joined here by pianist Ben Sidran and sometime sidekick in veteran jazzer Georgie Fame. Mose Allison aficionados seem to be most affronted by this project, but, for me, listening to it from my position of comparative ignorance it sounds a fine, late night, jazzy album to me. As I said, though, I have no knowledge of the originals so take what I say with a reasonably large pinch of salt. (With that in mind, I have just listened to several Allison originals and they have a great sound, instrumentally, and he had a unique laid-back, smooth voice). I liked his tracks, for sure, and appreciate the authenticism of them but it certainly hasn't made me think any worse of this album. Georgie Fame is a highly credible jazz artist, for a start. A brief aside - I was surprised to see that Allison looked like a cross between George Orwell and Oswald Mosley (I had presumed him to be black). So, as from now, I am sampling the originals as well as the covers on this album.
is a lively, jaunty Georgie Fame, organ-driven number with some great bass and piano too. Tell Me Something sees Van return, and, in my opinion he does impressively - it is full of bluesy atmosphere and killer saxophone. I love it. Allison's version is superb but Morrison gives it something too, I feel. I Don't Want Much is tackled very well by Fame and Sidran. Actually, I prefer their interpretation to Allison's original. The virtuoso saxophone parts on Allison's originals, are, however, truly outstanding.
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 God 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.
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.
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.
Look What The Good People Done is a slow, jazzy blues in the style of the material he did with Georgie Fame. It is a Morrison original but sounds like a cover of a blues/jazz standard. At The End Of The Day is a slow, soulful, evocative number included as a bonus track on the previous issue of the album. The Healing Game is included in its "single version". Personally, I don't have much time for single versions, seeing them as wilful butcherings of excellent tracks. Its inclusion here is pretty superfluous for me.
The alternate version of The Healing Game is simply sumptuous - backed by a beautiful bass and piano. Van Morrison soul at its very best. Fire In The Belly has a slower, slightly sparser backing, again concentrating on an understated bass and melodic, tinkling piano.
Then we get several duets with John Lee Hooker, Carl Perkins and Lonnie Donegan, that are made all the more poignant by the fact that three of them were quite near the end of their lives when they recorded these tracks. The John Lee Hooker tracks particularly so. The Carl Perkins songs are just a delight. Paul McCartney would love these, I think. They are upbeat rock 'n' roll numbers and Van seems to be really enjoying himself. Matchbox is a particular favourite of mine - "if you don't want my peaches, don't shake my tree...", a line that just makes me smile. Sittin' On Top Of The World is great too. These tracks are the real gems in this collection, if you're fan who enjoys these sort of relative obscurities, that is. Just check out the deliciously bluesy My Angel.
The live concert material from Montreux has excellent sound quality - warm and bassy, as I like it. It includes seven tracks from The Healing Game album plus several others. Foreign Window, from No Guru, No Method, No Teacher is excellent. It is good to hear tracks like this done live. Ditto the vibrant Tore Down A La Rimbaud and the Georgie Fame organ solo on Tupelo Honey. Overall, this is an excellent set for hard-core fans, as things like this always are. I guess that is who will buy it, and quite rightly too, they won't be disappointed.
Back On Top here, in 1999.
After such a breakneck start, it soon becomes time to slow things down and we get the beautiful, laid-back tones of The Philosopher's Stone. A melodic, stately piano and organ and some gentle percussion back Van as he "looks for the silver lining in the clouds", getting all mystical and searching - his "job is turning base metal into gold and he was born on the back street jelly roll...". The song is absolutely jam-packed with Van-isms, and some copper-bottomed blues harmonica too. In The Midnight is a gentle, soulful ballad, with Van again getting it dead right, vocally. Back On Top is a lively tuneful commercial blues number, featuring some classic harmonica and saxophone. Van moans of his feeling of "isolation at the top of the bill..." yet he states he is "back on top". It is what would comes to be a regular gripe of his - the price of fame and success. It is actually a somewhat arrogant song, but no matter, it sounds good.
When The Leaves Come Falling Down. Van evokes the changing of the seasons as he does so well - "...in September when the leaves come falling down...". My goodness, this sometimes irascible man can write some killer romantic, sad and meaningful songs. What a paradox he is, a mass of contradictions.
High Summer is very much a song that would have fitted in well on 1982's Beautiful Vision. It has that soulful Morrison vibe. Listen to it, you will recognise instantly what I mean. The harmonica is delicious. Reminds Me Of You is an organ-driven slowie, with Van at his most yearning. Unfortunately, grumpy Morrison returns with the frankly ludicrous New Biography, which sees him moaning about a new book written about him, and the misery of "the fame game". Give it a rest eh, Van? Put up with the book, I am sure you can, really. It is a catchy tune though! It has one hell of a saxophone solo part too.
Golden Autumn Day is a bizarre song to close the album. Musically, it is beautiful, with some killer saxophone and a sumptuous bass sound. Half the lyrics are about the beauty of a golden autumn day, the other half is about being mugged at knifepoint. It is strange, as most of Van's "golden autumn" songs are about the beauty of nature, here he transposes it with something disturbing, which is most unusual.
Shot Of Rhythm & Blues just bristles with blues rhythm, featuring some excellent, grinding guitar. It is a shame that Van appears to have disowned the album because it is seriously good. Real Gone Lover is another toe-tapper, with the two vocalists singing off against each other. I can't state enough just what a pleasure this album is from beginning to end. It is real breath of fresh air.
This album was released at a time when 75 minute CD albums were de rigeur, perceived as giving maximum value for money. That is all very laudable, but, for me, those albums go on far too long. The Rolling Stones did it, so did Elton John and Bruce Springsteen, and many others - huge bloated albums, track after track, that, "back in the day" would have been double albums. All tracks are perfectly acceptable, of course, immaculately played and in superb sound quality, but the album would not have suffered if it had been three or four tracks shorter. It would have made it easier to focus on the material that was there. As it is, I do not play this album too often, subconsciously thinking that it is too long. Of course I could just play half of it, but I am sure you get my point. (aside - Just get on and play it, man!).
Van, increasingly, had started to insert a regular moan into his albums, usually about the "music industry", about people "ripping him off" or about life's daily struggle when one is famous. On this album it is present in the otherwise melodic and appealing Man Has To Struggle. There is nowhere near as much bitterness and bile on this album as on others though. Van is quite peaceful and at one with himself on most of these songs. He really is such a sensitive songwriter. A bit of sentimental nostalgia, as reflected in the cover image, but far less of the frustration with modern life. Don't worry, though, it would be back on Magic Time and Keep It Simple.
Georgia On My Mind is a convincing cover version while Only A Dream and The Beauty Of Days Gone By see Morrison at his most beautifully romantic and sensitive. Nostalgic and thoughtful. All Work And No Play was a lively, vibrant jazzy number that hinted at the sort of material that would appear on 2005's jazz-influenced album Magic Time. Fast Train is just a wonderful slice of Morrison soul to close the album. Another truly uplifting cut. Listening to the album again, maybe I am discovering hidden depths. There is more than just r'n'b on here. There are real jazz, country, soul and rock'n'roll influences too. It has been a pleasure to dig this one out again.
Having to much of a good time, Van? Time for another moan, surely? Here we go - "What will it take for them to leave me alone - I'm just a guy who sings songs..." he complains, going on about living in a Goldfish Bowl and the pitfalls of celebrity. It's a great blues song, for sure, but the message is starting to grate somewhat by now. It's been a feature of most albums since 1991's Hymns To The Silence. "I don't have no hit record, I don't have no TV show, so why should I have to live in this goldfish bowl?..." he muses, again and again. I think he does a pretty good job of staying out of the limelight, actually.
Magic Time is a typical piece of Van Morrison "take me back" soulful nostalgia at which he is the absolute master. The song as a lovely, relaxing, organ-powered feel. There is some superb harmonica from Van and yet more wonderful guitar from David "Foggy" Little who tragically died soon after recording the album (which is dedicated to him).
Some commentators (notably one from the BBC, writing on Amazon's page for the album) have mercilessly criticised it, somewhat unfairly in my book. It is what it is. It is Van Morrison singing country standards, and a few of his own tracks written in the same vein. He, as usual, employs a top notch band. The sound and his own delivery is truly superb. The songs sound pretty respectful and authentic covers to me (not that I am familiar with the originals), so the accusation that there is some sort of disrespect involved is preposterous. Morrison is an aficionado of both this style of music and the artists who produced it, that is why he chose to record it.
Song Of Home is an organ-driven country ballad with some good backing vocals. No Thing is a slowed-down number which touches of rock'n'roll balladry in it and some jazzy backing vocals. Like many of the songs on here, they are blues songs with touches of country, like the steel guitar on here, or those rock'n'roll doo-wop style backing vocals, or some jazzy organ breaks. Soul has Morrison telling us, convincingly, what soul is, suitably soulfully. He hits that groove and it is most evocative, with a lovely saxophone break from the man himself, and some killer guitar too. The album ends on another soul-influenced track, the uplifting, inspiring Behind The Ritual. This is possibly the best track on the album. Morrison's vocal is a bit slurry, but affectingly so. The tone is deliberate. The song builds and builds and it is totally atmospheric. A great end to a good album. Every few years, he has released these albums and, although they don't change much, I love them all.
Incidentally, on the front cover, Van looks somewhat like a cross between the legendary cricket commentator John Arlott and actor Michael "Foyle's War" Kitchen.
Some Peace Of Mind from Hymns To The Silence - with Bobby Womack. Soulful as you would expect from gravel-voiced Bobby Womack. Nice trumpet solo too. Van on excellent improvised vocal form at the end.
If I Ever Need Someone from His Band And The Street Choir - with Mavis Staples. Legendary Stax-gospel singer Mavis Staples raises this Celtic soul slow burner from 1970 higher with her by now aged, throaty but still so damn strong vocals. She laughs at one point with the sheer enjoyment of doing it. The pleasure from both of them really comes across.
Higher Than The World from Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart - with George Benson. Jazzy soul guitar virtuoso Benson is a good choice for this mystical airy floaty number from 1983. Benson contributes some trademark jazzy electric guitar superbly. This version outdoes the original. Great saxophone at the end, too.
Wild Honey from Common One - with Joss Stone. Nubile young soulstress Joss Stone tackles this slow, reflective number, again from the mystical, bucolic period. She takes the vocal slightly beneath Morrison's growl and provides a strong sweetness that suits the title. Her strength of vocal lends the song a real soully feel. Again, the backing is superb, as indeed it is on the whole album.
Whatever Happened To P.J. Proby? - from Down The Road - with P.J. Proby. The tight-trousered sixties singer who never quite made it joins Van himself for a song about his descent into obscurity. It is played in smoky jazz club style, with an addictive stand up bass and some jazzy slow drums. Proby's voice is gruff and soulful. It enhances the track well, and it is a most atmospheric rendition.
Carrying A Torch from Hymns To The Silence - with Clare Teal. Instead of Tom Jones, with whom he had duetted this in the past, Van is joined by jazz singer Clare Teal. I love this song anyway but when Clare starts her vocal part it sends shivers down my spine. One of the best duets on the album. Lovely. My goodness this grumpy old man has some soul. This song always makes me somewhat tearful.
The Eternal Kansas City from A Period Of Transition - with Gregory Porter. Contemporary jazz singer Gregory Porter is on vocal duty here. A great bass intro is followed by some sumptuous, punchy brass. Porter's strong, soully voice adds gravitas to a performance that improves considerably on the original. There is a "hard bop" style jazzy solo part in the middle.
Streets Of Arklow from Veedon Fleece - with Mick Hucknall. Flame-haired Simply Red singer features on this mystical, Celtic number from 1974. The mysterious feeling of the original is maintained as the flute swirls all around a haunting Hucknall vocal that really does the song justice.
These Are The Days from Avalon Sunset - with Natalie Cole. Nat King Cole's daughter adds her sweet, soaring soul tones to this uplifting, gospelly song. She does a good job. The song is more jazzy than the original. It has some excellent saxophone and trumpet solos.
Get On With The Show from What's Wrong With This Picture? - with Georgie Fame. Van's old mate, sixties jazzer Georgie Fame joins him on this. It suits him perfectly. It is given a slight reggae beat and the two old friends jazz up the vocals. It is catchy and decidedly pleasant.
Rough God Goes Rising from The Healing Game - with Shana Morrison. Van's daughter provides her usual high quality vocal on this track from 1997, that it played quite similarly to its original.
Fire In The Belly from The Healing Game - with Steve Winwood. Sixties/seventies band Traffic's Steve Winwood appears on this, initially instrumentally and as the second voice to Morrison, and then they duet half way through, both singers' rasping vocals trading off again each other effectively.
Born To Sing from Born To Sing: No Plan B - with Chris Farlowe. A slightly mid-tempo rock 'n' roll piano and saxophone introduces this appealing duet with sixties blues rock legend Chris Farlowe. My god, what a voice he has. The track is enhanced by some wonderful New Orleans-style brass.
Irish Heartbeat from Down The Road - with Mark Knopfler. Suitably evocative, folky and beautiful rendition of this Celtic-influenced number. A bit of trademark Knopfler guitar in there too.
Real Real Gone from Enlightenment - with Michael Bublé. Crooner Bublé does a surprisingly fine job on this upbeat number, the two of them enthusiastically whooping it up, in entertaining fashion. The final name checking bit is excellent.
How Can A Poor Boy from Keep It Simple - with Taj Mahal. Sixties blueser Taj Mahal and Van get down 'n' dirty on this blues grinder. Mahal's voice is suitably gruff and is a great fit for the track.
This is a highly recommended, quality album.
The old self-analysis is still here too, although when he sings "I was Mr. nice guy for way too long..." on Out In The Cold Again you have to wonder if he is really talking about his notoriously irascible self. The song is slow and tender, with a plaintive, understated string and piano backing. It is one of his finest slow ballads for a long time.
Holy Guardian Angel slows down the tempo to walking pace initially then it builds up into another one that has echoes of days gone by, this time of 1997's The Healing Game, full of call-and-response backing vocals. Share Your Love With Me is a sixties Bobby Bland and Aretha Franklin cover with rock 'n' roll echoes that again musters up memories of several previous songs in its delivery, even though it is not a Morrison original. In Tiburon (pictured) has Van reminiscing over his seventies time in California, with lots of name and place checking. It sounds like something from 1973's Hard Nose The Highway and has a lovely saxophone solo.
This is not a nostalgia trip for Morrison, he plays the music with an enthusiasm and vitality that sounds forward-thinking as opposed to retrospective, if you get my drift. It is spontaneous and almost sounds "live", something Morrison has always been able to get from his musicians.
Basically, I like all the music on here. You either like it or you don’t. I liked the dirty, authentic blues of Roll With The Punches and I also liked the country of Pay The Devil. I like Van Morrison. It seems many just want him to do Bright Side Of The Road-type material and nothing else. Van Morrison is at a stage in life, indeed he always has, when he just what he feels like doing. Good for him.
The Things I Used To Do has some addictive bass and an organ that swirls around all over it like fairground Wurlitzer. The standard of musicianship on the album really is top quality, as indeed is the sound. It really is a pleasure to listen to. Travelin' Light has that deep, bluesy, bassy underpin to its slow, smoky late night rhythm. It has some seriously impressive saxophone and burbling Hammond organ on it. Close Enough For Jazz makes its third appearance on a Van Morrison album, and it is no surprise to find that this one is its most authentic jazz version. Goldfish Bowl is given a saxophone-drenched, extended new coat of paint and Morrison's bluesy griping about the pitfalls of fame are equally as convincing. Evening Shadows from Down The Road has an intoxicating saxophone riff and some lively organ doodling. Magic Time features that strange deep voice improvisation again, that sort of sounds like bath water gurgling down the spout. Other than that, it sounds great!
Van Morrison seems to put albums out every six months at the moment. Just when you think that you must give the previous one a third listen along comes another one. Many people will no doubt dismiss this a "yet another Van Morrison album" and "why doesn't he just retire?". Well - why should he? He enjoys what he does. Personally I really enjoy this one. If I thought it was rubbish I would say so. But it is not. The jazzy, r 'n b blues mix of originals and cover versions is a good one, reflecting both his long musical roots and his desire to continue writing music in that style. His vocals are still superb - coping with everything his impressive musicians throw at him. The sound quality is outstanding but the album cover is a strange one, isn't it?
The album is basically jazz and blues, alternating from track to track and often merging the two. It washes over you for an hour as you can imagine. This is what Van Morrison does these days and he does it well. I am happy to go along with it. Others may not be. That is their choice. I make no apologies for liking the album.
Got To Go Where The Love Is is a Stax-ish, upbeat, bass soul/blues number. It has some killer jazz guitar and punchy Stax horns. Morrison's vocal is superb too. Check out the full, thumping bass too. No signs of ageing on this one whatsoever. I love it. Solomon Burke's Got To Get You Off My Mind is done well, with some stonking organ/bass interplay and a great vocal. Teardrops is a return to copper-bottomed blues as is Worried Blues/Rollin' And Tumblin'. The virtuoso organ on this is wonderful. I Love The Life I Live is a back to jazz stylings once more.
Another of Van’s favourite topics is the “fame game” and its attendant pitfalls. Here he lets out his frustrations on Fame Will Eat The Soul. Van has been ranting on about this for many, many years. He does it so well here, though - supremely soulfully over a sumptuous organ-driven backing. It has echoes of the material on The Healing Game, particularly in Van’s call and response interaction with his male backing vocalist (Righteous Brother Bill Medley) No matter whether it is the same old moan, Van lifts it all up effortlessly.
Latest Record Project Vol. 1 (2021)
This review is made up (in places) of my opinions about Van Morrison's opinions. I think mine are the correct ones, he no doubt believes the same of his. There's no why, why, why - it just is.
So here we go then, as I launch my own Morrison-style rant.
Van Morrison totally disgraced himself with his ignorant, imbecilic and irresponsible rejection of lockdown restrictions. So he couldn’t play live gigs for a while - there were lives at stake you foolish, selfish old man. Anyway, enough of that, because if you have trawled through my reviews of his work, you will know that I love his music dearly. He crossed the line with recent behaviour, though, in many ways.
Having refused to even listen to his moronic anti-lockdown diatribes, am I going to “cancel” him, to use the contemporary, highly irritating phrase? Possibly, but no, not quite for this album, because, perversely - and I stress that most strongly - to a certain extent it finds him getting back to what he does best - moaning about the music industry and the media instead of him bellyaching about not being able to go to the pub and people choosing to protect themselves and wearing a mask - and I have got used to him doing that over many years now. Where the problem comes here is that with this latest offering that is only the start of it as he turns his sour invective on pretty much everything that you would depressingly expect a reactionary septuagenarian to target, and some.
There is always that overbearing negativity these days in much of Morrison's lyrical output - and it's getting abjectly worse. Lockdown has left him with as much time on his hands as a teenage footballer-abusing online racist. A cursory look at some of the album's titles leaves one in no doubt that Morrison is not a happy chap at all - Where Have All The Rebels Gone?, Tried To Do The Right Thing, The Long Con, Big Lie, Diabolic Pressure, Stop Bitching-Do Something, They Own The Media, Jealousy and the admittedly wonderfully-titled Why Are You On Facebook? (I'm not, Van. Never have been. Nor Twitter either). These titles betray a man beset by angst, annoyance, irritation, possible mild paranoia, a destructive feeling that "they" are out to get him and, of course, how stiflingly terrible it is to be a prisoner of the media, fame and the music industry for so long. Furthermore, and very disturbingly, he seems to have gone all Morrissey on what sounds like a right wing rant on the track Western Man, where he claims that the West's supposedly deserved rewards have been unjustly taken from them by "foreigners". Oh dear. Oh dear indeed. "I'm a targeted individual" he tells us on The Long Con. Maybe you are, Van, for turning into an idiot before our eyes and ears.
Van has a slightly unhinged pop at psychiatry on Psychoanalysts' Ball, but he comes across like Basil Fawlty panicking when he learned that there was a psychiatrist staying at the hotel. They're coming for you, Van. On It Hurts Me Too he sounds like a schoolteacher about to administer a beating and declaring "this is going to hurt you more than it hurts me".
He even finds time here to have a less than sly dig at those who dutifully buy his music in Latest Record Project - a retrospective-sounding track that, ironically offers nothing new at all. I still like it, though, as I do the infectious Morrison-style jazzy bounce of his get-out clause excuse for his ranting, Only A Song. Love Should Come With A Warning is sumptuous Morrison Hammond B-3 organ-driven soul featuring impressive backing vocals. That's four of the songs commented on (I'm not going to do a "track by track" on this behemoth, I'm afraid. Sorry).
I must briefly interject that, musically, there are no new furrows ploughed. Did you really expect there to be? I'm still more than ok with the album, instrumentally, and there is no reason why that shouldn't be the case - after all I love his trademark later era sound - but lyrically I am reaching the end of my own long road with Morrison. What a shame that it has come to this. I find, though, that paying scant attention to the lyrics and just enjoying the music is possible. For example, I love the sheer original r'n'b vibrancy of Where Have All The Rebels Gone? Tracks like Thank God For The Blues and A Few Bars Early are refreshing in that they leave the griping at the bar-room door and Van just plays and sings the blues. Thank God for that, not just for the blues.
Briefly returning to the lyrics, Van's maudlin self-pity on Tried To Do The Right Thing is actually quite touching. He sounds like a regretful old man who admits he has made mistakes here. "It all went wrong" he bemoans. You can say that again.
Alexis Petridis, writing in The Guardian, said the experience of listening to the album is "reminiscent of a dinner party with a bitter divorcee". I do like that description. Check out his whole review - it is excellent.
Nothing much more for me to say is there? As usual, as when I bought the previous album - it's possibly too late to stop now. Maybe after this interminable collection of vituperative rantings it really is time to stop. The problem is that I love the sound, delivery and backing of his ranting and probably always will. All things considered, it is still a really good album and I enjoy listening to it, despite the lyrical content.
* Two weeks on, how do I feel about the album now? Well, I love it - good music and singing is exactly that - good. I'll ignore some of the dumber lyrics, letting Van rant on while I enjoy a really good album.
This remarkable 30 track compilation of previously unreleased material is a real gem in Morrison's already mighty canon. The material's sources are the subject of endless debate among Morrison experts, but most of them would seem (and sound) to date from the period from Hard Nose The Highway to A Period Of Transition - late 1972 to 1976-77. I have listed them above with their (alleged) dates of recording.
Anyway, this is a veritable cornucopia of Morrison magic - many of the tracks here would have considerably enhanced Hard Nose The Highway, Veedon Fleece and A Period Of Transition. Particularly the first and third of these three. Why the tracks were rejected is a mystery that only Morrison knows the answer too, like Dylan, Springsteen and Costello, his rejects would be others' works of genius, their exclusion incomprehensible.
Many of the songs are bluesy and this is reflected in the openers - Really Don't Know and Ordinary People are solid chugging bluesers.
Soul (Morrison's unique brand of it) is present in a lot of them too and the full length, extended Wonderful Remark (not the shorter, slightly faster one found on the Best Of Van Morrison Volume One) is an absolute delight. Morrison's vocals are soulfully top notch and the flute backing enhances the song no end, as it slowly builds up its feeling. Great stuff.
Not Supposed To Break Down sounds very 1974 Veedon Fleece-ish to me.
Madame Joy is a wonderful, lively companion to the 1968 classic Madame George.
Contemplation Rose is very typical of Morrison's early mid-seventies work while Don't Worry About Tomorrow is a harmonica-driven blues number with a long instrumental introduction. Try For Sleep is also a fine piece of laid-back Morrison blues, featuring the higher parts of his vocal range, that he employed a lot more in the early seventies.
Lover's Prayer is a slow paced, soulful one. Drumshanbo Hustle has Morrison embarking on one of his early rants against that old Satan - the music industry. "You were puking up your guts when you read the standard contract you just signed...". Don't sign it then, Van.
Twilight Zone is a blues that possibly goes on a few minutes too long, but Foggy Mountain Top has Morrison doing the blues in his own unique style and it sounds almost like a one-take "live" recording, it is so spontaneous-sounding.
Naked In The Jungle finds Van getting lively and funked-up, in a piano-driven, barroom sort of way. It also features a killer saxophone solo. There There Child is beautifully rhythmic and bassy in its sheer relaxed soulfulness.
The alternative version of The Street Only Knew Your Name - a song which dates eventually from 1983's Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart (although this was an early recording of it from 1975) - positively drips with Morrison-style soul, as does his cover of the folk song, John Henry, which once more finds Van getting surprisingly funky. Check out those funky drums and basslines on Western Plain too. There is no stuff like this on any of Morrison's albums.
Joyous Sound is exactly that - a brassy, upbeat serving of Celtic soul. I Have Finally Come To Realise is slow paced, saxophone-enhanced soul. Street Theory also has a brassy, funky beat. For Mr. Thomas is a wonderfully evocative, uplifting tribute to fellow curmudgeon, Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
The alternative versions of songs on here are great too, especially the catchy Real Real Gone and a harmonica-drenched Bright Side Of The Road.
I am not a huge fan of the strange, spoken duet Song Of Being A Child and Showbusiness (another familiar Morrison gripe) probably goes on a minute or two too long, however wonderful it is at times. Crazy Jane On God and the Irish instrumental High Spirits sort of pass me by too, but maybe that is because they come at the end of the album.
As always with these long compilations and/or double albums, I run out of steam when reviewing them. I think you have got the picture by now - if you're a Morrison aficionado of any sort of fortitude, you will eat this up. There is a fair case for this being the best collection of Van Morrison songs in one place outside of the "best ofs". Seriously.