[Review] Van Morrison: Hard Nose the Highway (1973)

At this stage, Van was drifting further from the main road, but you’d be wise to follow.

Kronomyth 7.0: My way and the highway.

Van Morrison’s last few albums got off to a rousing, soulful start. Hard Nose the Highway doesn’t. Instead, it begins with the strangely luminous, almost ghostly Snow in San Anselmo, featuring the Oakland Symphony Chamber Chorus. Van shapes the words as much as he sings them and the sum effect is oddly arresting. That soulful start finally arrives in the title track, but by then Van has established the album’s mood as nostalgic, autumnal. There are some jazzy interludes, none moreso than Van’s reading of “Being Green” (credited here as simply Green), which confirms what we already knew: Van Morrison is a better singer than Kermit the Frog.

On the one hand, Hard Nose the Highway is an uncompromising record. Who else would start an album with its most difficult track, or experiment with his golden voice the way Van does on “Snow in San Anselmo” and Autumn Song? One moment, Van is playing the innocent romantic (Warm Love); the next, he’s the inside saboteur exposing the rock & roll façade (The Great Deception). Along the way, we don’t get any closer to the real Van Morrison. The enigma deepens, the songs blow past us like ghosts riding a cool breeze, and the listener has that strange feeling again that they’ve been admitted into an inner sanctum that might just be a manufactured waiting room.

In the rotating cast of co-conspirators are many familiar names: Jeff Labes, John Platania, Jack Schroer, Gary Mallaber, Rick Schlosser. They know how to navigate the musical world of Van Morrison, even when the man ventures into the unknown, as on the waning minutes of “Autumn Song.” More than perhaps any Morrison album to date, Hard Nose the Highway seems to defy time. Maybe it’s the nostalgic mood that runs through songs like Wild Children and Purple Heather. Or maybe it’s the singer himself seems to want to stop time: to watch the snow fall, to commune with nature, to linger in the moment of being loved.

Perhaps Hard Nose the Highway is forty minutes long. Perhaps it’s a lifetime long. In either case, it’s time well spent.

Original elpee version

A1. Snow in San Anselmo (4:34)
A2. Warm Love (3:22)
A3. Hard Nose the Highway (5:14)
A4. Wild Children (4:20)
A5. The Great Deception (4:51)
B1. Green (Joe Raposo) (4:20)
B2. Autumn Song (10:37)
B3. Purple Heather (5:42)

Original 8-track version
A1. Snow in San Anselmo
A2. Warm Love
A3. Hard Nose the Highway (begin)
B1. Hard Nose the Highway (concl.)
B2. Wild Children
B3. Green
C1. The Great Deception
C2. Purple Heather
D1. Autumn Song

The Players

Van Morrison (vocals, guitar) with Theresa Adams (strings), William Atwood (horns), Jules Broussard (horns), Marty David (bass), Jackie DeShannon (background vocals), Joesph Ellis (horns), Nancy Ellis (strings), Ed Fletcher (alias Iversen) (spirit, morale and laughter), Michael Gerling (strings), David Hayes (bass), Jeff Labes (piano), Gary Mallaber (drums, vibes), Zaven Melikian (strings), Oakland Symphony Chamber Chorus (background vocals on A1), John Platania (guitar), Nathan Rubin (strings), Rick Schlosser (drums), Jack Schroer (horns), John Tenny (strings).

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track in July 1973 in the UK (Warner Bros., K/K4 46242), the US (Warner Bros., BS/M8 2712), Canada (Warner Bros., 8WM 2712), Germany (Warner Bros., WB 846 242) and New Zealand (Warner Bros., TC-WBS 2712) with gatefold cover. Reached #22 on the UK charts and #27 on the US charts.

  1. Re-issued on cassette in 1974 in Spain (Warner Bros., MB 446242).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in Germany (Warner Bros., K 46 242) [watermark label].
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in Germany (Polydor, 839 163-2).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc and cassette in 1986 in the US (Warner Bros., 2712-2/ M5 2712).

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