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Van Morrison Revisits Astral Weeks

| March 2, 2009 | 0 Comments

Astral Weeks Live At The Hollywood Bowl
(Listen To The Lion)


Say the name Van Morrison, and the casual fan will think “Brown-Eyed Girl,” “Moon- dance,” maybe “Domino.” But the Morrison maniacs, the real Van fans, with exuberance, will think Astral Weeks. Not only is this eight-song, mind-expanding, meandering meditation Morrison’s masterwork, it’s arguably one of the most blatantly brave, adventurous, and yes, best albums ever recorded.

Just scan any “Best” list of the rock era, and Astral Weeks is near the top – hailed and revered. And the testament to its standing and rabid infatuation is that Astral Weeks, a quirkily conceived and captivatingly executed musical melange of rock, jazz, Celtic folk, and even embryonic new age, sounds as beautifully enigmatic as ever. Released in 1968, it was before its time and remains timeless. It’s like Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue. First listen. Transcendence. Forever.

Astral Weeks Live At The Hollywood Bowl is a vibrant revisiting by Morrison 40-years later, recorded in November 2008. Now the converted and the uninitiated can embrace a newly fashioned journey through his original musical and celestial navigation.

For all its lyrical impressionism and musical improvisation, songs like the yearning title track, the charismatic “Slim Slow Slider,” and the traversing “Cyprus Avenue” covertly convey searching and contentment: exploring one’s place in their skin and this universe. A trippy ’60s self-indulgence by a young Morrison looking for answers? Perhaps. But also a universal yearning – whether you’re a 20-something imagining a boundless, uncertain future, or 60-something, confronting a diminishing, finite one.

This first-ever live treatment of Astral Weeks is today energized by a cadre of instruments, orchestrations, and inspired musicians (including original guitarist Jay Berliner). Inevitably, it is potently driven by Van’s life experience, his distinct, age-enriched vocal stylings, some tasty scatting (“M-m-m-my t-t-t- tongue gets t-t-t-tied every t-t-time I t-t-t-try to s-s-speak,” during “Cyprus Avenue”), and those glorious growls and “Morrison mumbles.”

These elements effortlessly channel, with renewed appreciation, a consuming vibe that confounds logic, invites interpretation, and enthralls ethereally. Though Morrison takes a few creative liberties – mixing up the original sequence – it now builds dramatically to a dreamy coda.

Within, Morrison confidently segues to the jazz romp of the familiar “The Way Young Lovers Do” and delivers delightful eccentricities throughout the taut pace of “Sweet Thing.” These brief structured detours (plus two encore songs not on the original album) are languidly offset by Astral Weeks‘ penetrating pinnacles and Morrison’s most effective moments on this live set – the tinkling tenderness of “Ballerina” and the idyllic “Madame George” (or is it “Madame Joy”?).

Despite all the above effort, Astral Weeks defies description. But on Astral Weeks Live At The Hollywood Bowl, Van Morrison affectionately and protectively presides over the album’s intrinsic intentions, as gloriously undecipherable as they may be.


James Turano


Category: Columns, Monthly

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