FEATURED ARTIST: VAN MORRISON
Where does one start with this boundary-crosser?
Known affectionately as “Van the Man” to fans, it’s near to impossible to pin down an artist who toggles between pop music, jazz, rock, folk, country, gospel, Irish folk, big band, skiffle, rock and roll, instrumentals and sometimes even spoken word. And with all that musical travel, Morrison has always referred to himself as simply “a soul singer.”
I’ve always admired the late and legendary concert promoter Bill Graham’s succinct description of Van. “He has one of those voices that you cannot describe..it’s not a pure voice, it’s not a great voice, but he is so perfect for the songs that he writes, and he’s so involved. I believe his involvement. In fact, he is too involved…he relates to the song and to himself, rather than the audience. When he performs, it’s kind of like, ‘I hope you’re with me out there….because I’m into my songs.”
WHAT TO GET ON VINYL
Duets (2015) RCA Records
Rather than just rest on his laurels as an elder statesman, Van uncorked this critical and commercial success last year, which gathered overlooked gems from his back catalogue and re-cast them with help from all star guests, including Steve Winwood, Bobby Womack, Mark Knopfler and George Benson. All of Van’s deck hands performed solidly, but Rough God Goes Riding, a collaboration with daughter Shana Morrison, rises to the top of this superb musical pile. Kudos to RCA for a beautifully produced 2 LP, 180 Gram package that will satisfy even the most picky audiophile.
The Best of Van Morrison Volume Two (1993) Polydor Records
Hard to find and a little pricey, this two LP vinyl beauty is the best representation of Van’s work in the 80’s and 90’s. The folks at Polydor assembled impeccable performances from 10 different albums, including the hypnotic spoken word treasure Coney Island from 1989’s Avalon Sunset. Coney Island's dreamy plunge into Van's past matches the intensity of anything else Van sings on the album. This rich anthology not only tops the prior "Volume 1," but makes the case that Van will always hold a place in the upper pantheon of important musical artists. I also think of it as a Van Morrison “desert island best of” LP.
It’s Too Late to Stop Now (1974) Warner Brothers
I’ve anguished over omitting Astral Weeks from this feature’s three choices, but few would argue that Van shines brightest onstage, and it would be a sin not to pick this great recording with the Caledonia Soul Orchestra—always mentioned as one of the greatest live albums ever. For now, you can seek out the original pressing, or a newly remastered vinyl edition from Legacy Recordings. I’m also laying in wait for the possibility of seeing a “Volume 2” from this tour on vinyl. Legacy Recordings has already issued never-heard performances from this tour on CD. Stay tuned….And If the live A Night in San Francisco (1994) were available on vinyl, I would narrowly recommend it over It’s Too Late to Stop Now.