Van Morrison

Warner Records, 1970

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


It’s an argument as old as the two records themselves: is Astral Weeks the quintessential Van Morrison album, or is it Moondance? There’s no shame in coming down on either side of that dilemma, though the answer for this particular listener is, no question, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the mighty Moondance

The big difference when you get down to it is this: Astral Weeks is a vibe record. It’s an all-encompassing universe of its own in which Morrison dazzles you with lyrical flights and passionate singing that mask the reality that his compositions here are so free-flowing as to be, at times, nearly formless. And Moondance is an album made up of songs—captivating, astonishing, at times almost unfathomably great songs.

Opener “And It Stoned Me” is both a stone classic, and a beautiful summation of what Morrison is all about: searching out and living inside little moments of transcendence. In this case, the moment arrived on a fishing trip with a buddy, but it could have been anywhere, really. The little details of the lyric—filled with images of water flowing—beautifully complement the rippling piano and the warm, comforting sax as Morrison sings soulfully of his mythic backwoods adventure.

“Moondance” gives the transcendence Morrison is seeking female form as he sings of his quest for “a magic night” with the object of his affectionate advances. Every arrangement on this album is both loose and precise, organic-feeling and carefully thought out; here the secret weapon is flute, the way it dances around the basic melody and adds an exotic flair to moment after moment across the expanse of this 4:34 masterpiece. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

As if that didn’t raise the temperature enough, Morrison goes into full-on seduction mode for “Crazy Love,” a lovely, pleading romantic ballad whose female background vocals counterpoint his every entreaty, turning the song into a conversation. With “Caravan” we’re back in Morrison’s wheelhouse, mystical-feeling soul-folk music, a precise conglomeration of acoustic elements—in particular punchy, playful sax—surrounding a magnificently memorable wordless refrain (LA-la-LA-la, la-la-LA). Side one of the vinyl finishes with “Into The Mystic,” in many ways Morrison’s theme song. “Moondance” or “Domino” or “Brown-Eyed Girl” might have been bigger hits, but this is the song that captures the essence of his unique aesthetic: “Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic.”

The second half opens with the bright and sprightly “Come Running,” the horns giving it a bit of a soul revue feel as Morrison adds a touch of swagger to the refrain “You’ll come running to me.” “These Dreams Of You” is another upbeat number with an especially warm and catchy sax line, leading into “Brand New Day,” a slower, soaring piece with mystical overtones about “light from the sky,” featuring another rich, gospel-tinged conversation with his female background vocalists.

“Everyone” opens with a harpsichord-and-flute jam (!) before evolving into a rather jaunty Celtic circle dance. An insistent bass line and handclaps form the warm, pulsing heart of closer “Glad Tidings,” whose music backs up its title. “We send you glad tidings from New York,” sings Morrison, “Open up your eyes so you can see.” It’s that mystic vision thing, but more than that, it’s an anthem for optimism: “Meet them halfway with love, peace and persuasion / and expect them to rise to the occasion.”

Arrangement after sparkling, buoyant arrangement leaves Moondance so infused with the joy of creation that it’s nearly impossible not to smile while listening to it. There is a constant enthusiasm in Morrison’s voice and persona here, a total belief in the value and power of what he’s doing that permeates every note, every word, every carefully considered yet seemingly organic little musical element. Moondance is the sound of a great artist in the absolute prime of his creative life.

Rating: A

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