Van Morrison is one of the most intriguing artists in the history of popular music, a defiant and fiercely independent artist who never compromised on his artistic ideas. At one point a victim of the cartel like music business of the 1960's he has been able to forge a career where he has been able to express himself across many different genres incorporating celtic, jazz, soul, R&B and folk music. Rising from the ashes of the R&B drenched Them Morrison recorded the enigmatic Astral Weeks in 1967, a phenomenal album deeply rooted in his beloved jazz and celtic mysticism with it's stream of consciousness lyrics. Morrison was not an artist to stand still, relocating to the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York Morrison sought out local players to bring about a more accessible sound. Moondance is a joyful album, where Astral Weeks looked romantically at his past Moondance looks romatically at Van's present, newly married and living in the communal Catskills.
The album starts with the wistful And It Stoned Me a vivid recollection of Van's youth going fishing near the village of Ballystockart, and like many of his songs acknowledging the musical heroes of his past,
And it stoned me to my soul
Stoned me just like Jellyroll
And it stoned me
And it stoned me to my soul
Stoned me just like goin home.
The jazz influenced title track has become something of a classic radio staple, Van's nuanced and restrained vocal is the highlight of this song he just gets the idea of not pushing a song until it's about to fall over. The alto sax solo by Jack Schroer is one of those solo's that is part of the lexicon of great individual solo performances. Crazy Love is an exuberant ode to love with a soft falsetto vocal beautifully offset by the backing vocals of gospel legends Jusy Clay, Jackie Verdell and Cissy Houston. Caravan is another song that is cheerful and upbeat, the freedom of music and letting life take you down its winding path. The soulful horns and some intricate guitar work from John Platania add to the cosy warmth of the song. I love the fade out, Van sounds like he is having a good time.
And the caravan is on its way
I can hear the merry gypsies play
Mama mama look at Emma Rose
She's a playin with the radio
I've heard many exclaim the sheer beauty of Into The Mystic, how it's a distillation of all that is beautiful and soothing in music, capturing the true essence of what it is to be captured by a song. It's a song that has in equal measure the pleasure and melancholy that are the roots of nostalgia.
We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic
Hark, now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic
Brand New Day was inspired by hearing The Band for the first time while Van was living in Boston and contemplating his next career move. The stripped back nature of their music and the heart and soul of their performance gave Van renewed musical enthusiasm. This vigour is captured on the call and response vocal between Van and the backing singers. Moondance was a breath of fresh air on it's release in 1969 it's refreshing honesty and musical enthusiasm was a counterweight to some of the overblown psychedelia still permeating the musical landscape.