Saturday, November 21, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: VAN MORRISON - ASTRAL WEEKS, HIS BAND AND THE STREET CHOIR
Although these aren't the full-bore packages afforded the reissue of Moondance, the album issued between these two, they are certainly mightily welcome new versions of these classics. Moondance was given a four-disc-plus-DVD set, but that meant take after take of variations, never the most rewarding listening experience. This time, they go for less is more, with just a handful of alternate takes from the sessions as bonus cuts, on single disc packages.
The discs are giving spiffy new liner notes, again nothing over-the-top, just a good essay explaining the sessions, and the historical context. The bonus cuts are all familiar, and at the most present some slightly different backing, or versions on Street Choir before strings. The biggest highlight would be the take of Slim Slow Slider that restores the original ending rather than the fast fade-out of the cut preferred by producer Lewis Merenstein for its discomforting ending to the album. Again, we're not talking major new finds here.
So what's the big deal? Sound, my friends. Never have these gems, these classics, sounded better, and for fans of Astral Weeks especially, that is tremendous news. The instruments sound so clear and separated now, with so much presence to each one. You can focus in on every sound, let your ears concentrate on the flute as it enters, pick out the guitar licks of Jay Berliner, follow along with Richard Davis' bass as he leads the band forward, none of them really familiar with Morrison or his tunes before these sessions. There were miles and miles of column-inches written over the years by critics enthralled by the jazz-blues-Celtic-pop fusion Morrison created, and you'll constantly find this album in the top-ten-ever lists, so don't go without.
I'm actually a bigger fan of Moondance and His Band and the Street Choir, but that's because I simply like concise, arranged music more, no biggie. After the huge success of Moondance, Morrison got right back on the horse and did a fun album, nothing too intense on the surface but full of brilliance just the same. It's the home of Domino after all, and the hit Blue Money too. If this was Morrison having a lark with the group, he showed it could be serious fun too. Also here are some of his best R'n'B workouts, including Give Me A Kiss and I've Been Working, the latter becoming a powerhouse life track as heard on 1974's epic It's Too Late To Stop Now concert album.
I've never noticed this before, but when I heard Crazy Face on the album this time, with all its odd character names, and then thought about the title "and the Street Choir", I put two and two together, and came up with Springsteen, a huge fan, well-influenced by this period of Morrison's work. His early songs had characters such as Crazy Davey and such. Just sayin'. Anyway, time for an upgrade on both, I'm not steering you wrong, money well spent.