For Van Morrison’s 70th birthday, there was a big announcement: that most of his back catalog would come under the auspices of Sony/Legacy, and be available for streaming and downloading with selected albums reissued in expanded formats. They began the reissue program with this well chosen two CD collection that does its best to pick the highlights from a career that has spanned over 50 years. The collection opens at the beginning with Morrison fronting the scrappy Irish rhythm and blues band Them and singing the anthemic song “Gloria” and the yearning “Here Comes the Night.” This sets the format for the first disc of the album, presenting two or three songs from the more well known albums of his early career from the inescapable “Brown Eyed Girl” to the blistering jazz of “The Way that Young Lovers Do” and impressionistic “Astral Weeks” from the album of the same name. Four tracks from the Moondance LP show the importance of that album in his catalog, since it was able to combine the side of his personality that is the spiritual seeker, “And it Stoned Me,” “Into the Mystic” with his more approachable jazz and blues side of “Moondance” and “Crazy Love.” The remainder of disc one consists of cherry picking the most well known songs and singles of the seventies like the driving “Domino” and the radio friendly “Tupelo Honey” and “Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile.)” Much of Van Morrison’s music from the 1980’s onward became more overtly spiritual in nature and less oriented toward singles for radio and television. One of the very good things about the Universal deal is that it will make the albums of this period readily available, some of which had even fallen out of print in the USA. There are some quite beautiful songs on disc two, the least of which is “Have I Told You Lately” which undoubtedly made Morrison a windfall when Rod Stewart got his grubby hands on it. Jaunty songs like “Bright Side of the Road” and “Real Real Gone” are superb pop songs and earworms equal to his earlier material but seemed to fall on deaf eras. His jazz experiments with Mose Allison and Georgie Frame were quite successful leading to tracks like “That’s Life” and “Precious Time” and they even include one of his great “grumpy” songs, “Why Must I Always Explain. This is a very solid collection, good for newbies to learn what the fuss is all about and a well chosen slab of music that will make the cognoscenti eager to dive into the back catalog again. The Essential Van Morrison - amazon.com
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