Van Morrison’s new release – Astral Weeks Live At The Hollywood Bowl

Thanks to Anne Ritchie:

Because I’m often too quick at making judgments, I thought I’d better give Astral Weeks Live another chance before posting my original negative review (First draft, below) and consigning the CD to the never-to-be-listened-to-again shelf.

OK, come to the album with an open mind. Judge it on its merits, without making too many comparisons with the sublime original. Look for positives.

Many of the tracks swing. Van actually seems to be enjoying making music with this band. I like his idiosyncratic playing of the guitar (as I always did) and his mimicry of instruments. The opening track sounds better than it did on first hearing. The middle of Slim Slow Slider and the beginning of Cyprus Avenue still excite.

Still don’t like the straining vocals of Beside You or The Way Young Lovers Do, though. Van is no crooner. Sweet Thing is still disappointing.

So, it’s musically richer than I’d first credited it. And of course the songs themselves are a great improvement on those of the last decade or so. But I probably won’t play Astral Weeks Live again.

Why would I, when I could listen instead to masterpieces like the original studio recording? Or It’s Too Late To Stop Now?

And I’m still unsure about the forthcoming concert.

First draft – ditched

I wished I’d listened to Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl before booking tickets for Van Morrison in Cardiff in June.

When I first heard of the project there was a frisson of excitement. Before the doubts set in. Who was it who said:“Don’t look back!”

That was a persistent niggle. But some very positive reactions to the LA concerts convinced me that perhaps it was time to reopen up to the music that had meant so much to me before Van the artist morphed into Van the entertainer.

But listening to the new album only strengthened the doubts. I didn’t like the throwaway delivery of the opening track, the unconvincing emoting (especially in Slim Slow Slider), some mannered scatting, the neat endings of many of the songs. I didn’t feel the mature voice was appropriate to expressions of youthful love. There was little of Morrison’s delightful trademark wonderment on display.

I did like the musicianship, though – apart from the dated pipes and soppy vocal backing in Listen To The Lion. I thrilled to hear Richie Buckley again and I found Ballerina perhaps better than the original.

But I doubt I’ll ever be playing the new album again.

It did send me back, though – way, way back, to the original, to that freshness, spontaneity, and originality that great young musicians still exhibit (check out Conor Oberst or Jim Moray, two favourites of this web site).


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