Still brilliant after all these years
Astral Weeks: Live at The Hollywood Bowl
Listen to the Lion
ESSENTIAL "Sweet Thing"
This is a stroke of genius. Van Morrison may be viewed as a modern grouch by some folks, but he shows guts in going back to his poetic, almost mystically sweet "Astral Weeks" album from 1968 and doing a live version both profound and astonishing.
Van lovers will recall that he lived on Green Street in Cambridge (a block down from the Plough & Stars) when he completed the original "Astral Weeks." His pal Peter Wolf remembers how Morrison was broke and slept with his wife, Janet Planet, on a mattress on the floor and would have to go to Wolf's apartment to make long-distance phone calls.
The jazzy-folk "Astral Weeks" is considered by many to be his best album, and he does it justice with this concert recorded in November with an orchestra and one musician, guitarist Jay Berliner, from the original disc. Many of the new versions are longer, but the passion is overwhelming.
The music is more solid, less dreamlike, but constantly exciting on standout tracks "Astral Weeks" (sounding more like a Traffic song now), the flamenco-enriched "Beside You," and sublime "Sweet Thing." Incredibly, Morrison only did one rehearsal for this event, so the spirit of improvisation is strong. He twists, bends, and scats vocals with a master's touch.
The songs are creatively resequenced and enhanced at the end by two other Van songs: "Listen to the Lion" from 1972's "St. Dominic's Preview" and the spiritual "Common One" from 1980. (Out tomorrow) - STEVE MORSE