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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
One of my favourite albums ......

(of course one could say that this is just an attempt to cash in without having to write new stuff ................)

Not me however.



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By JIM FUSILLI

Van Morrison says he never listens to his own albums after he oversees the final steps of the recording process, and when we spoke last month, Mr. Morrison told me he probably hadn't listened to the original "Astral Weeks" from beginning to end in 40 years. But last November he did revisit his acclaimed 1968 masterpiece, performing it at two sold-out concerts in Los Angeles. "Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl," the new recording made from those shows, captures a fascinating performance by an incomparable artist.

During our phone conversation, Mr. Morrison, now 63 years old, was in a lively mood, seemingly energetic and enthusiastic, his biting humor muted. With a flip remark, he tried to conceal where he was calling from (Bath in southwest England, it turns out), and when I asked him why he decided to revive "Astral Weeks," he said he wanted "to get a grip on the fact that the thing was ignored the first time around." Then he added that he wanted to get his "own mileage out of it," perhaps referring to his new label, Listen to the Lion Records, which released the live recording today. (Nor has he again relegated "Astral Weeks" to his past. He and the musicians who appeared at the Hollywood Bowl will be performing the music in New York this weekend and on March 3 and 4. See www.vanmorrison.com for details.)

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Van Morrison's new album "Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl" is a recording 40 years in the making.
As for his long-festering resentment over the album's treatment in the late '60s and contracts that diminished his cut of the profits, he offered the verbal equivalent of a shrug and said, "When you get ripped off, you get ripped off." Bad deals in the music business are, in his words, "a fact of reality."

Though "Astral Weeks" was a marketing challenge for Warner Bros. four decades ago and sold poorly upon release -- back then, Mr. Morrison's fans associated his name with pop hits like "Gloria" and "Brown-Eyed Girl," not an esoteric album that blurred the boundaries of folk, blues and jazz -- the recording, as he noted, now regularly appears on critics' and fans' lists of best albums.

"It wouldn't go away," he said. "People kept requesting it."

Its appeal lies in the Belfast-born Mr. Morrison's emotional singing and inscrutable lyrics, as well as the ad hoc band's free-flowing musicianship. There's no precedent for "Astral Weeks," and none of Mr. Morrison's many musical admirers and imitators have come close to touching it with their work.

He acknowledged that fans find meaning in his songs he never intended -- "and that's fine." Most of the words were written in a manner akin to stream of consciousness. He was, he said, "a sponge," soaking up the atmosphere in 1967 and '68. "I was picking up on what people were saying. Conversations. Speech patterns." When I mentioned the album's opening lyric -- "If I ventured in the slipstream," which seemed to me a perfect description of how "Astral Weeks" unfolds -- he said he overheard the word "slipstream" in a conversation about a cricket match. "That was just something I threw in." He was writing fiction, he said, recalling how one critic claimed the song "T.B. Sheets," a bluesy precursor to "Astral Weeks," was an anguished tribute to a dying girlfriend. Not so, Mr. Morrison told me, calling the song "complete fiction."

For the 2008 Hollywood Bowl gigs, he employed a hand-picked group of musicians that included guitarist Jay Berliner, who was on the original recording; Terry Adams, Nancy Ellis, Tony Fitzgibbons and Michael Graham on strings; Richie Buckley on flute; and David Hayes, who played the upright bass that's at the heart of the music's motion. Richard Davis, the bassist on 1968 sessions, was scheduled to perform at the show but had to cancel. (The original "Astral Weeks" drummer, Connie Kay of the Modern Jazz Quartet, died in 1994.)

To boost the jazz feel, Mr. Morrison added Roger Kellaway, the pianist and composer who once led Bobby Darin's group. According to Mr. Kellaway, the band rehearsed twice before the first show and only once with Mr. Morrison. "'Astral Weeks' is a pretty mind-blowing album," he said. "Van's music covers a pretty wide spectrum -- out-and-out R&B, out-and-out jazz." The concerts, he added, "were pretty intense. Van likes to go on the fly."

From the opening moments, "Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl" reveals Mr. Morrison's visceral connection to the music and musicians who surround him, no doubt a relief to his colleagues who've seen him withdraw if inspiration failed to appear. "It felt like I could take off," he said of his time on stage. "I could go anywhere. The key is working with musicians who know what I'm doing. They could read where I was going."

The orchestra responds to his intensity. They follow when, as if in a trance, the singer extends the opening title track with 3½ minutes of lyrical and vocal improvisation -- "meditations," he called them. Later in the set, he does the same with a stirring "Slim Slow Slider" (a song he rarely performs), "Cyprus Avenue" and "Ballerina."

"Madame George" somehow manages to be bolder and more intimate in the new reading, as Mr. Morrison's voice and guitar and Mr. Hayes's rubbery bass introduce the song. The orchestra enters gingerly, and Mr. Morrison digs deeper into the hypnotic verses; a flute and violin dance around the melody. "Madame George" was the original album's finale, but on the new disc, Mr. Morrison and the group return for "Listen to the Lion," a song he wrote shortly after "Astral Weeks" was completed, and "Common One," the title track of Mr. Morrison's jazzy and underappreciated 1980 disc.

"It all clicked," Mr. Morrison said of the Hollywood Bowl shows. Because he hadn't played the material much over the years, "Astral Weeks" "felt fresh. It wasn't burnt out."

For the new album, Mr. Morrison insisted the music not be gussied up after the fact. "The beauty of it is it isn't mixed. I wanted exactly what came off the board," he said, referring to the process of refining a recording and to the engineers' sound equipment. Thus, "Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl" captures a magic moment in the raw.
 

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disgruntled pigskin fan
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Astral Weeks is up there in my top five all-time favorite albums with the likes of Kind of Blue and Pink Moon. Absolutely superb.
 

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Jerkhard Sirdribbledick
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I read in an interview with Morrison about this a couple months ago. He came off as the most self-important douche in the history of music. There's a hint of that here (i.e. I finally had musicians who were good enough to play with me).

Nevertheless, it's a great album and Sweet Thing is one of the best songs evar.
 

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2 busy workin' 2 hang out
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DrRoebuck said:
I read in an interview with Morrison about this a couple months ago. He came off as the most self-important douche in the history of music. There's a hint of that here (i.e. I finally had musicians who were good enough to play with me).

Nevertheless, it's a great album and Sweet Thing is one of the best songs evar.
He is self-important but he has the talent to back it up. I'd love to see him live and am purchasing the live album this week. The original may be my favorite album of all time.
 

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2 busy workin' 2 hang out
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Gave it a listen today and it's great. Not as good as the original obviously, but what is? He's changed and older but still is seeking out the spirit of the songs and I love it. I would recommend it if you're a Van fan.
 
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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Henry Porter said:
Gave it a listen today and it's great. Not as good as the original obviously, but what is? He's changed and older but still is seeking out the spirit of the songs and I love it. I would recommend it if you're a Van fan.
I have it on my ipod. Played it over the speakers in my office today.

I like it.

Glad it's out.

I will play this quite a bit. When I think about it - driving to California next week, lots of time to listen a few times in the car.
 

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disgruntled pigskin fan
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I played the original this past Sunday morning. There's no better album for a gloomy Sunday morning.
 

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Windrider (Stubborn)
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If that doesn't move you........

check for a pulse.

Len
 
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