By Jake Ebdale
Re-released November 7th, 2013 - Warner Music
One of the privileges of reviewing music, or just being a music consumer, is to rediscover old gems through reissue. Midst all the Stones, Dylan and Neil Young makeovers, Van Morrison is sorely underrated, even forgotten - or at least his full records are. Casual Van fans may not know that Moondance was his third album, not to mention pre-solo band Them (they had a mega hit, ‘Gloria', in the 60s). Somewhere along the way, squeezing every drip out of The Last Waltz, I'd misplaced the histrionic soul of old George. So, it's a nice surprise to hear this understated and beautiful record in a modern setting - it holds together amazingly well.
Hearing a freshly remastered ‘And It Stoned Me' is an awakening to Morrison's talent as a storyteller - in this case, going for a fish with a mate and getting on the piss at the end. You can imagine sitting next to him on a bar stool, as he tells tales of his travels and childhood memories; for me, this vision permeates the record. The song is as much a reminder of what is on offer here, as to what came before and after. To think he followed the jazzy, slightly bi-polar masterpiece that is Astral Weeks with something this accessible, whilst maintaining an original spark with later gems like ‘Domino', ‘Tupelo Honey' and ‘Who was that Masked Man'...well, Moondance stands as a remarkable pivot point for his genius.
When he bellows out of that burly, Irish diaphragm, pulling out a mixture of love and painful heartbreak, the music hits home. Every time. There are also tales of bristling elation (Caravan, Glad Tidings), the song that he identifies with the most (Brand New Day), and a wealth of classics. The title track is by far the most familiar, but also shuffled him into 'the jazzy crooner' deck - jazz was only one of his many tricks. True magic comes in the form of ‘Into the Mystic' and ‘Crazy Love' - tender, delicate hymns that beg to be enjoyed with a good wine and a girl. Along with ‘Sweet Thing', they're the purest love songs he ever wrote.
I've once heard Van being described as classic rock, which is so far from the truth. Come on - this is just R&B, right? Forget how temperamental Georgie boy is in his 60's. Or that the guy is white. Close your eyes and think Otis Redding - it doesn't make a difference. He sings from the soul. Everyone has one, and he never sold his for a second.
The reissue's bonus tracks are menial, but prove that even in demo form, his vocals are extraordinary. There are some worthy additions to the Van canon, particularly ‘I Shall Sing', but it's the 10 album tracks that I've come for. I think I'll stay here for a while. Marvelous.