Monday, January 25, 2010

Van Morrison - Astral Weeks (Warner Brothers, 1968)

Back before he was the Belfast Cowboy, Van Morrison was an up and coming singer-songwriter, coming off some marginal success with the rough Irish R&B outfit Them and some solo singles like the immortal “Brown Eyed Girl.” What he produced for his first full length LP for Warner Brothers was an epochal masterpiece, something that sounds like it belongs to no era or genre. Cut with jazz and session musicians (including the amazing Richard Davis on bass,) it makes no concessions to pop sensibility, and unfolds more like a collection of beautifully written short stories than a rock 'n' roll album. “Astral Weeks” sets the tone, with shimmering acoustic guitar and strings framing Morrison’s incredible bass as he sings of searching for a “home on high.” Morrison has written some edgy and heartrending songs before and after this album, but the level of emotion expressed in the unrequited love of “Cypress Avenue” and the level of compassion for the transvestite in “Madame George” are extraordinary. For sheer musical muscle, there is the free-jazz meets rock and roll of the barreling “The Way That Young Lovers Do” incorporating strings, vibes and trumpet but succeeding on the strength of Davis’s elastic bass and Morrison’s impressive vocals. What makes a perfect album? Is it something that is recognized right away or a feeling that evolves as the time and distance for the initial recording recede? This album, without a weak cut or a trace of filler surely meets the criteria, and it goes more resonant as time goes by. Astral Weeks -

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