Archive for the ‘Van Morrison’ Category

Van Morrison – a greater talent than Dylan?

July 23, 2009

Thanks to Martin Cowan:

“Need to take issue with Andrew from Adelaide on a couple of points:

1) Dylan v Van

I’m not sure you can compare Van’s “Astral Weeks”, “Moondance”, “St Dominic’s Review” and “Veedon Fleece” (released over a 6 year period) with Dylan’s “rolled gold” classics as selected by Andrew, “Freewheelin’”, “Bringing It All Back Home”, “Highway 61 Revisited”, “Blonde on Blonde” which were not only released over just 4 years, but the last three were recorded and released over a ridiculously tight time frame:

* Bringing It All Back Home (14 and 15 Jan 1965); (2 days)
* Highway 61 (15 June, 29/30 July, 2/4 August 1965 (5 days)
* Blonde on Blonde (14 -17 Feb, 8/9 March 1966 (6 days)

So, three undeniable classic LPs recorded in 13 days over a 14 month period! Can anyone else match that? And wasn’t he touring during that time too…?

2) Dylan’s second golden era

Planet Waves 1973
Blood on the Tracks 1974
Desire 1975
Hard Rain 1976
StreetLegal 1978

3) Classic songs

I would suggest that Dylan has more classic songs in his songbook than Van that are more well known to the public at large eg Blowin in the wind, lay lady lay, knockin on heaven’s door etc

4) Sustained sequence of clunkers

Can anyone top Van’s output of clunkers from 1995 to the present?

 Tell Me Something: The Songs of Mose Allison (1996)
 The Healing Game (1997)
 Back on Top (1999)
 The Skiffle Sessions – Live in Belfast 1998 (2000)
 You Win Again (2000)
 Down the Road (2002)
 What’s Wrong with This Picture? (2003)
 Magic Time (2005)
 Pay the Devil (2006)
 Live at Austin City Limits Festival (Live) (2006)
 Keep It Simple (2008)
 Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl (Live) (2009)

That’s not to deny the brilliance of “Astral Weeks” which is unique in the Van canon, and possibly one of the greatest albums of all time.

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Van Morrison – a greater talent than Dylan?

Thanks to Andrew Robertson:

No surprise that Oh Mercy was rated the best Dylan album of this period (1978-89) – it was, indeed, the only album of that period that I would rate as a classic Dylan album or potentially a Desert Island Disc.

To provoke debate among other music lovers (and perhaps to annoy Dylan Diehards) I would like to repeat my previously expressed view that this confirms Van Morrison as the greater music talent, and indeed, the greatest in contemporary music.

The same period (1978-89) was Morrison’s second golden era in which he produced 6 “rolled gold” classics, as follows (in chronological order):
Into The Music
Common One
Beautiful Vision
No Guru No Method No Teacher
Poetic Champions Compose
Avalon Sunset

In addition, several other worthy additions to his canon (also in chronological order):
Wavelength
Inarticulate Speech of the Heart
Live at the Belfast Grand Opera House
A Sense of Wonder
Irish Heartbeat (with the Chieftains)

And not one weak album, not one that is not a worthy addition to my music collection.

A very significant difference to Dylan’s output from the same years, as your reader poll confirms.

Ah, but what of Dylan’s early years, do I hear you – and Bernard McGuinn – say (defiantly)?

OK, ignoring Bob Dylan, on which he only wrote 2 tracks, Dylan’s only golden era comprised 7 albums of which 4 were “rolled gold” classics:
Freewheelin’
Bringing It All Back Home
Highway 61 Revisited
Blonde on Blonde

While 3 were simply excellent:
The Times They Are A-Changing
Another Side
John Wesley Harding

In Van Morrison’s case, ignoring Them and the Bang output, his first golden era also comprised 7 albums of which, similarly, 4 were “rolled gold” classics:
Astral Weeks
Moondance
Saint Dominic’s Preview
Veedon Fleece

While 3 were simply excellent:
His Band and the Street Choir
Tupelo Honey
Hard Nose the Highway

I would argue that Morrison’s “best of the best” (namely Astral Weeks) is better than Dylan’s but putting arguably subjective judgments aside, my point is that Morrison had two golden eras compared to Dylan’s one (not that Dylan hasn’t had other great albums – Oh Mercy being a case in point – however he hasn’t, in my opinion, had another sustained period of such extraordinary excellence).

Let the debate begin…

Andrew in Adelaide

Dylan, Morrison, Cohen, Young: wrinkly rockers keep on keepin’ on

April 20, 2009
Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, the key rockers for grown-ups, are very active in their wrinkly years:

* Dylan’s touring Europe (London this weekend); new album next Monday;

* Morrison is rolling out his Astral Weeks Live gig – London shows at the weekend, like earlier US shows, were praised to the skies; new album of the LA gig recently released, DVD coming soon;

* Cohen’s recent world tour was wildly successful, CD/DVD recordings of the London show capture the brilliance;

* Young’s 2008 shows were the best in years; new album just released.

Deeply impressive; in spirit, if not in body, all four top rockers for grown-ups look as though they’ll stay forever young…

Gerry Smith

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

February 25, 2009
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).

New albums from Springsten, Morrison, Morrissey, and maybe Dylan and Young: Encore #1

February 18, 2009
Thank to Pat Kenny:

“Like you, I prefer to celebrate rather than knock the output of great musicians – as all those listed above undoubtedly are.

“But, having bought the three albums already released, I have to admit I’m underwhelmed.

“Springsteen’s CD sees him treading water… Van the Man should have resisted the temptation to update his untouchable masterpiece… and does Morrissey have anything left to say?

“I’m not optimistic that the new Dylan or Young albums will be Earth-shattering, either.

“Time for me to take a rest from rock, and catch up on some recent jazz releases. I feel a Miles/Coltrane/Herbie/Wayne period coming on.”

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The big beasts in the rockpop jungle are stirring, with new albums from Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Morrissey, and maybe Dylan and Neil Young.

Springsten kicked off the season with Workin’ On A Dream. I’ve yet to hear it. Please let me know what you think.

Van Morrison was the second to stir with Astral Weeks Live last week. The original is one of my top three albums in any genre. After half a dozen plays of the new version, I’m suspending judgment.

Morrissey followed yesterday with Years Of Refusal. What do you think of it?

New Dylan album rumours are flying fast. Some have a new 10-track studio album already in the can and due for release at the end of April.

And it seems that Neil Young’s eternally delayed Archives box has been put back yet again to accommodate an original new CD, Fork In The Road, on 30 March.

Great days for grown-up rockpop fans!

All of these musicians are profiled in my new book, Music For Grown-Ups. For full details, please click on the book cover at the top left of this page/

the Home Page of the master website:

www.musicforgrown-ups.com

Gerry Smith

New albums from Bruce Springsten, Van Morrison, Morrissey, and maybe Dylan and Neil Young

February 17, 2009
The big beasts in the rockpop jungle are stirring, with new albums from Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Morrissey, and maybe Dylan and Neil Young.

Springsten kicked off the season with Workin’ On A Dream. I’ve yet to hear it. Please let me know what you think.

Van Morrison was the second to stir with Astral Weeks Live last week. The original is one of my top three albums in any genre. After half a dozen plays of the new version, I’m suspending judgment.

Morrissey followed yesterday with Years Of Refusal. What do you think of it?

New Dylan album rumours are flying fast. Some have a new 10-track studio album already in the can and due for release at the end of April.

And it seems that Neil Young’s eternally delayed Archives box has been put back yet again to accommodate an original new CD, Fork In The Road, on 30 March.

Great days for grown-up rockpop fans!

All of these musicians are profiled in my new book, Music For Grown-Ups. For full details, please click on the book cover at the top left of the Home Page of the master website:

www.musicforgrown-ups.com

Gerry Smith

Lucinda Williams – channelling Van Morrison?

November 21, 2008
On Sweet Honey, her new album, Lucinda Williams seems to be channelling Van Morrison. Her new song The Knowing (track 9), sounds eerily like a Van Morrison song from his mid-‘80s Beautiful Vision period. (It isn’t.)

From the vaguely New Age lyrics to the smouldering vocal delivery, from the mantra-like repetition to the quietly impassioned humming (where else have you heard Williams humming on record?), from the tempo to the instrumentation, the similarities are legion.

I’d lay good money that Lucinda Williams had been hearing a fair bit of vintage VanMan music while she was writing Sweet Honey.

Gerry Smith

Van Morrison’s Astral Weekend at Hollywood Bowl

November 17, 2008
Thanks to Andrew Robertson in Adelaide

If ever I was going to fly to the other side of the world for a weekend to see a concert – make that two concerts – November 7th and 8th at Hollywood Bowl was the time to do it.

In a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Van Morrison played Astral Weeks – arguably the greatest album in contemporary music – live both nights to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its release in 1968.

Set lists:

Friday 7th November

Wavelength
Saint Dominic’s Preview
And The Healing Has Begun
It’s All In The Game >> You Know What They’re Writing About
Troubadours
Angeliou
Moondance
Brown Eyed Girl
Gloria

Astral Weeks
Beside You
Slime Slow Slider
Sweet Thing
The Way That Young Lovers Do
Cyprus Avenue
Ballerina
Madame George

Listen To The Lion

Saturday 8th November

Wavelength
Saint Dominic’s Preview
Caravan
It’s All In The Game >> You Know What They’re Writing About
Here Comes The Night
And The Healing Has Begun
Summertime In England
Brown Eyed Girl
Gloria

Astral Weeks
Beside You
Slime Slow Slider
Sweet Thing
The Way That Young Lovers Do
Cyprus Avenue
Ballerina
Madame George

Listen To The Lion

When the first night started with Wavelength, Saint Dominic’s Preview and And The Healing Has Begun, I knew we were in for a totally magical experience. You would hardly get a better encore than that, let alone an opening sequence. I have to admit to tears in Healing, I was simply taken!

My own assessment was confirmed by this online review of the Friday night concert in the LA Weekly website on Saturday: “Sell the rest of your portfolio. Forgo fancy dinners for the rest of November. Break your lame date and call your soul mate. Do what you have to do, I swear, to get a ticket to tonight’s Van Morrison show at the Hollywood Bowl. If you at all have ever been moved by a Morrison song, if you’ve wondered whether age has worn his voice, tore away at his heart or passion, you should make a pilgrimage.”

It is seriously impossible to describe these concerts – as an Aussie, I’ve only seen Van live a handful of times, but the Van faithful from all over the world who were there, many of whom had seen him countless times, all agreed that this was the high water mark.

For me, this weekend was about Van’s musical legacy. There have been some people questioning why he would be doing Astral Weeks again and how it might be about money, and getting some rights back from Warner Brothers, and so on. But I don’t think so – if he had wanted to make money, I’m not sure that Astral Weeks was the most astute business decision – more likely Van Morrison “At the Movies” live at Hollywood Bowl would have been more popular.

In an emailed interview with Van, published in the Los Angeles Times, he made one comment that really struck me: “But I prefer writing and crafting the spiritual-leaning songs the most.” And for most of us Vanatics, those are the songs that resonate – but those are the songs that have been (mostly) absent from the last few albums.

So this “Astral Weekend” was about Van reclaiming some of what made him Van Morrison – I think it was a very personal journey for him. But one that he couldn’t help sharing, even though sharing doesn’t (apparently) come easily to him.

Others have said they were worried that he couldn’t do justice to Astral Weeks now after all these years. But he did – it wasn’t a repeat version, but it was a very faithful re-creation, true to the original, but informed by the 40 years in between. Nobody complained about the It’s Too Late To Stop Now version of Listen to the Lion starting with a piano intro, rather than guitar as on the original studio version, so why would there be a problem with Van changing the instrumentation and arrangements in the live versions of the Astral Weeks songs – as long as they were true to the spirit of the originals. Which they were!

To the concerts…

Anyone familiar with Van’s canon will recognise those set lists as extraordinary. To get All In the Game, Troubadours and Angeliou was completely beyond my wildest imaginings – it meant we got the whole of Side 2 of Into The Music, plus Troubadours, in addition to the whole of Astral Weeks!

Angeliou was exceptional, especially when he told the story that had no words – as only Van can, with those vocal sounds that come from who knows where (did you dig that sound?).

Closing out the first half with Moondance, Brown Eyed Girl and Gloria didn’t even seem to disappoint those who’ve heard them 100 times before, I think because the arrangements were so good. Moondance was so crisp and clean, and Van’s sax playing was great. Gloria was a stunner, morphing into Who Do You Love, and having a really bluesy grunt to it. And BEG was, well, just the perfect pop song delivered perfectly.

Then the second half started, Astral Weeks – this was very hard to believe, that there we were, and it was happening. It was 1972 when I first heard Astral Weeks, it blew me away then, it has continued to blow me away ever since, and it blew me away on Friday night.

I think the Friday night highlight was an astonishing Slim Slow Slider in which Van was attacking his acoustic guitar, again and again and again and again, with wild bursts of the most frenetic strumming you’ve ever seen, and singing BOTH that he was breaking down AND that he mustn’t break down.

If proof was still needed that this was about the music, Slim Slow Slider was it – if it was just a money-making exercise, he didn’t have to drive himself into such a frenzied state. He was, at once, breaking down and not breaking down, casting such an emotional spell you couldn’t help but be drawn into it. But like Astral Weeks (the album) has always done, it reveals the depths of pain while also opening the door to redemption. Beside You the same. Ballerina the same. Not so Astral Weeks itself (the song), which I’ve always found to be full of inspiration and hope – to be born again, to be born again.

Running Sweet Thing and Young Lovers in sequence seemed just right, and brought joy back to the stage after the depths of Beside You and Slim Slow Slider (not that listening to those two wasn’t a joyous experience, of course).

Then running Cyprus Avenue, Ballerina and Madame George together made for another inspired sequence and closed out the album, I mean concert, beautifully. Only to be followed by Listen to the Lion, which I had hoped would close out the first half because I really didn’t expect an encore after Astral Weeks (an encore after Madame George?!!). The tears were back in Lion – after all, it is my funeral song, and it is the one, out of all of his songs, that I so wanted him to play! And he did.

On Saturday night, after opening with Wavelength again, things went to a whole new level with an inspired Saint Dominic’s Preview – lines like “Warner Brothers have paid out for the wine” and “when you’re in the phoney state you’re in” and “snipers on the rooftops” suggested that there was fire burning in that belly tonight!

I didn’t expect Caravan – and while he wasn’t kicking, the arm thrusts were straight out of The Last Waltz and the band suddenly became the Caledonia Soul Orchestra. And what was Van doing, BOTH turning up AND turning down that radio. He was just going for it – tonight was his night, no doubt.

Then Game took off – if Saint Dominic was taken to another level, Game went to another galaxy, and it just went on and on, and took us all with it. Tinges of disappointment that we weren’t going to get Healing again – but we did, and again, I had shivers up and down my spine when I heard those first few guitar chords. Healing was very, very special for me, both nights.

Here Comes The Night was a personal treat – as a kid I used to take a transistor radio to bed, under the covers so my parents couldn’t hear, and Here Comes The Night and Mystic Eyes, along with Gloria, began my lifetime relationship with Van (even if I didn’t know it at the time).

But was Summertime in England the biggest surprise of all? It was agreed by everyone I spoke to at the “Van fan” gatherings that there would NOT be a SIE at these shows – even though it would have been first choice for many. Again, not a song that Van would have chosen if he was being guided by commercial interests. But what a surprising version – it started at the end and even though I kept thinking he’ll come back to the beginning with a very soft, taken right down “would you meet me in the country in the summertime in England…” it didn’t happen. Nevertheless, a magical highlight and perfect as it was.

Astral Weeks (the album, not just the song) on Saturday night also, in my opinion, went to another level. I was trying to describe to someone after the show what the difference was – and even though I couldn’t really find the right words to explain it, it seemed to me that he differentiated the songs more clearly. On Friday night, there was a bit of a sameness about his vocal delivery (excluding the extraordinary bits, scatting, etc) whereas on Saturday night each song took on its own personality. For example, Beside You was delivered more like on the album, much starker vocal delivery, almost harsh, but in a way that befits the song.

The highlight (if it’s possible to pick one) on Saturday night was Ballerina – after which he got a standing ovation from a crowd that knew Madame George and (hopefully) Listen to the Lion was still to come.

Speaking of standing ovations, on Friday night the crowd just clapped and cheered for what seemed like 10 minutes before the house lights came up. Yes we wanted more, but it was more than that – it was a genuinely enthusiastic acknowledgment of what we had witnessed. And this included people in the audience who were not Vanatics. I was really hoping that Van hadn’t left straight after the show because I thought it would have done wonders for his soul to have heard such heartfelt appreciation.

On Saturday night, my tears happened in Madame George – not sure if it was just the occasion, or whether it was the song, but certainly Madame George on Saturday night was as good as it gets. On a weekend that was better than it ever gets.

Celebrating Astral Weeks, Van Morrison’s masterpiece

November 3, 2008
This is a big week for Van Morrison fans, as the Ulsterman celebrates Astral Weeks, his masterpiece, with live performances over two nights at the Hollywood Bowl.

Here’s all you need to know – online streaming arrangements, preview features, archival reviews, and a new Morrison interview – on John Gilligan’s invaluable web site:

http://vanmorrisonnews.blogspot.com

Thanks to Bernard McGuinn for the tip.

Gerry Smith

Favourite Classic Rock Album: Reader Survey #1

October 15, 2008
The Favourite Classic Rock Album of readers of Music for Grown-Ups is… Astral Weeks by Van Morrison.

When we surveyed readers over a period of a couple of months the results were:

Astral Weeks (Van Morrison) 35% of votes
Blonde on Blonde (Bob Dylan) 21%
Revolver (The Beatles) 15%
Tonight’s the Night (Neil Young) 14%
Exile on Main Street (The Rolling Stones) 13%

Gerry Smith

Astral Weeks – live in LA

October 2, 2008

Astral Weeks, Van Morrison’s masterpiece, is Music for Grown-Ups’ favourite rock album. So it’s a delight to be able to pass on the news that Morrison will be playing Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on 7 and 8 November.

On both nights, the second half of the Hollywood gig will be a cover-to-cover re-creation of the magnificent LP, with a band including original recording session players Jay Berliner and Richard Davis. Hardcore Morrison fans will also be cheered by the reappearance on a VanMan stage of revered horn player Ritchie Buckley.

The gigs will be recorded for a new album, Astral Weeks Live At The Hollywood Bowl, to be released on the singer’s new label, Listen To The Lion Records, in January 2000.

Mamma!

Gerry Smith