Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Child-Like Vision: Van Morrison in the Spirit/ 10 Crucial Tracks

Van Morrison, master of blue-eyed soul, is best known for the popular tracks ‘Moondance’ and ‘Gloria’ but there is so much more to him if you explore beyond these greatest hits packages.
He’s perhaps one of the most serious singers of the past forty years, a disciplined craftsman who has been honing his own unique blend of rhythm and blues, celtic traditions and jazz for all this time.

Musically his heroes are Ray Charles and Mose Allison but there is more to it than that; his music has represented a spiritual quest, not just a professional one, paralleled by his poetic heroes William Blake, Jack Kerouac, Yeats and more.

Where should you look then if you want to find Van in this spiritual mode, at his stream-of-consciousness best; here’s Rock Revival's top ten tracks

1. Mystic Eyes (off The Angry Young Them, 1965)

This was one of the first indications of what was to come. It was originally conceived as an instrumental but after playing harmonica for 7 minutes Van sang spontaneously, developing the lyrics on the spot.

2. Astral Weeks (any track, 1968)

The jazz musicians employed for this album had no preparation, just very basic lead sheets from which to jam from. Van played a little on the acoustic guitar and then told them to play whatever they felt like playing. What you get is free-flowing expression of particular beauty, like church without the religion.

3. Listen to the Lion (off St Dominic’s Preview, 1972)

An eleven minute journey set to a bass-shuffle where Van sings, speaks, shouts, omits and whispers the lyrics ‘in rapture’.

4. Caravan (off It’s Too Late to Stop Now, 1974)

An incredible live album, Van’s cycle of blasting the audience and then bringing it down to a whisper is magnified beautifully by the a string quartet and his Caledonia Soul Orchestra.

5. Summertime in England (off The Common One, 1980)

A song that includes reference to Coleridge and Wordsworth’s literary travels to the Lake District, it’s funky but captures the love of nature and the joy of summer like no other. This is is least recognised album

6. Rave on John Donne (off Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, 1983)

Another track influenced by poetry……

Rave on John Donne, rave on thy Holy fool
Down through the weeks of ages
In the moss borne dark dank pools
Rave on, down through the industrial revolution
Empiricism, atomic and nuclear age

Rave on down through time and space down through the corridors
Rave on words on printed page
Rave on, you left us infinity

And well pressed pages torn to fade
Drive on with wild abandon
Uptempo, frenzied heels

Rave on, Walt Whitman, nose down in wet grass
Rave on fill the senses
On nature's bright green shady path

7. In the Garden (off NO Guru, No Teacher, No Method, 1986)

This is his masterpiece in my books, the section where he slows the tempo down to a whisper;
No Guru, no method, no teacher
Just you and I and nature

Van at his most intimate

8. Marie’s Wedding (off Irish Heartbeat with the Chieftans)

Here he is again as mystic, this time in the context of the sacred aspect of a wedding, again by slow tempo and whisper

9. On Hyndford Street (off Hymns to the Silence, 1991)

This is a spoken word track, one of many where Van tries to recapture his youth, the souns of Church Bells and Radio Luxemburg, Jack Kerouac and Big Bill Broonzy

10. Piper at the Gates of Dawn (off the Healing Game, 1997)

Another meditation on nature where ‘The song dream happened and the cloven hoofed piper played in that holy ground where they felt the awe and wonder and they all were unafraid of the great god Pan”

Image: Courtesy Warner Bros

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