Record review: Van Morrison – Moondance: Expanded Edition (2013, Reissue)

Van Morrison

How do you describe a stone cold classic album like George Ivan Morrison’s Moondance? The answer is you don’t; it describes you. Using words on a document to discuss the ins and outs of a collection of tracks that absolutely embody the very fabric of music itself is like trying to make the wind blow or sun shine. There are so few albums that can arguably be put into a category above and beyond the normal “masterpiece” slot into a level of a kind of transcendental majesty, and Moondance – Morrison’s 1970 second solo album – is certainly one of them.

Ranked at 65th spot on Rolling Stone’s ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’, if that means anything at all, Moondance was recorded only a few short months after the release of another classic, Morrison’s brilliant debut Astral Weeks, near Woodstock in upstate New York. Its blending of R&B, folk, soul, rock and jazz; all wired through its intensely controlling writer’s Celtic, stream of consciousness style, makes for some seriously special results.

Opener ‘And It Stoned Me’ is a beautifully narrated tale from Morrison’s childhood and the best song here. In 1985 he said “I suppose I was about twelve years old. We used to go to a place called Ballystockart to fish. We stopped in the village on the way up to this place and I went to this little stone house, and there was an old man there with dark weather-beaten skin, and we asked him if he had any water. He gave us some water which he said he’d got from the stream. We drank some and everything seemed to stop for me. Time stood still. For five minutes everything was really quiet and I was in this ‘other dimension’. That’s what the song is about.” The perfectly-paced track is perfectly constructed so as to allow the listener to float alongside the young Van as he makes his way through that countryside day in Northern Ireland. The addition of a lightly tinkling piano solo and subtly twining saxophones, and Morrison’s fixation on the glass of water “carried from the mountain stream” all add to the overall effect of a near-perfect childhood memory.

The title track is next, and despite the instant change of style to a song with an unmistakable jazz swing, Morrison’s voice makes it a smooth transition. There’s even a flute over-dub behind the vocals that gives the track a lighter air to go with the walking bass line. Fourth track ‘Caravan’ is another bona fide classic. The song – playing on Morrison’s fixation with gypsies – features yet more wonderfully descriptive lyrics. “And the caravan is painted red and white; that means everyone’s staying overnight, ” he sings, although it has to be said that the live version on The Last Waltz with The Band is probably even better (later track ‘Brand New Day’ is said to be inspired by The Band also). ‘Into The Mystic’ again explores the idea of the ‘gypsy soul’ in ethereal fashion, and ‘These Dreams Of You’ has the trademark Morrison groove that makes his live performances so special. Closer ‘Glad Tidings’ is his warning about the music industry and the trappings of celebrity lifestyle; ideas that Morrison has stayed true to over forty years later.

In terms of extras for this expanded edition, it’s what surrounds the songs that is most intriguing. From Morrison making false starts on ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out’ and getting crabby with his band, to snapshots of multiple takes of each song, and alternate takes that are just as good as the album versions; there’s plenty here to keep Van fans intrigued.

Forty-three years later and every song on Moondance still sounds bloody amazing. That’s why it’s a classic album.

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