Van Morrison – The Bang Masters (1969, 1992)
The Bang Recordings were the first solo recordings that Van Morrison made after the breakup of the Irish blues-rock band Them. He signed a contract with Bert Berns’ Bang Records in which he gave away most of the songwriting royalties and would later come to regret. Most of the later misanthropic anti-music industry songs of his later career can be traced to this period.
The music itself is never less than fascinating. Everybody knows the radio friendly pop hit “Brown Eyed Girl” that leads off this collection, but the sense from listening to the disc as a whole is the diverse nature of Morrison’s musical interests. Of course, Bang was looking for another hit after “Brown Eyed Girl” made the Top 10, so many of the songs are filtered through a pop sensibility. There’s a female backup chorus on several tracks, but they are arranged well in a call and response fashion, particularly on the remake of Leadbelly’s “Midnight Special.”
Special mention must me made of one of Morrison’s greatest songs, “T.B. Sheets.” It doesn’t fit in well at all with some of the more superficial pop music on this disc, but the harrowing seven minute epic about a visit to a friend who is dying with tuberculosis is one of the most gut-wrenching songs in the Morrison cannon.
Also, it’s interesting to see him setting the stage for his first masterpiece with early run-throughs of “Beside You” and “Madame George” which would appear a year later on Astral Weeks. All in all, this could be seen as a transitional album for Van Morrison, testing the waters of a solo career and injecting pop to the soul/blues framework he had used with Them, but the music stands up on it’s own as one of the first steps of a fascinating and mercurial journey.
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