Van Morrison: Astral Weeks (1968)

Kronomyth 2.0: THE VAN YOU LOVE TO LOVE. After the success of “Brown-Eyed Girl,” Van ditched that horse and strolled off the beaten path for the poetic, powerful Astral Weeks. It was the first of many unpredictable moves and cultivated the image of Morrison as a jazz spiritualist. From the beginning, it was an unconventional venture: Morrison and his guitar locked away in their ivory tower while a group of hired jazz minstrels followed behind him in due deference, nibbling at the notes he dropped. It’s the magnetism of Morrison that holds it all together on the first side, subtitled “In The Beginning.” Honestly, the backing band adds little that the singer himself doesn’t achieve with acoustic guitar in hand; some strings ebb and flow, an acoustic bass comes loping in on occasion, but mostly you’re held mesmerized by that voice and the words behind it. I haven’t met a Van Morrison album that’s more poetic than Astral Weeks, and it’s here that the Bob Dylan comparisons come easy. Of the four tracks, the opening “Astral Weeks” and the enchanted “Sweet Thing” stand out. On the second side, subtitled “Afterwards,” Morrison and the band work better as a unit for some reason, especially on the overtly jazzy “The Way Young Lovers Do.” The highlight, however, is a nine-minute version of “Madame George” where the sounds and visions move like a slow parade of ghosts and Morrison drops such hidden mysteries as “the love that loves to love.” On first sitting, Astral Weeks is an underwhelming album that seems like so much standing in place. On subsequent sittings, however, it becomes a big pointillist painting with a larger-than-life man in the middle. That enigmatic ending, Van shaking his guitar to wring out the last drop of color from it, suggests an artist who’s emptied everything he has for his art. But with Moondance came replenishment, and again, and the story ever since has been of a man replenished by that magic trilogy of God, Nature and Music.

Original LP Version
A1. Astral Weeks (7:00)
A2. Beside You (5:10)
A3. Sweet Thing (4:10)
A4. Cyprus Avenue (6:50)
B1. The Way Young Lovers Do (3:10)
B2. Madame George (9:25)
B3. Ballerina (7:00)
B4. Slim Slow Rider (3:20)

All selections written by Van Morrison.

The Players
Van Morrison (vocals, guitar), Jay Berliner (guitar), Richard Davis (bass), Connie Kay (drums), John Payne (flute, soprano saxophone), Warren Smith, Jr. (percussion, vibraphone) with Larry Fallon (arranger, conductor). Produced by Lewis Merenstein.

The Plastic
Released on elpee in November 1968 in the UK and the US (Warner Bros., WS-1768) with flipback cover; RIAA-certified gold record. Re-issued on elpee in 1970 in the US (Warner Bros., WS-1768, green label), in 1973 in the UK (Warner Bros., K-46024), in 1977 in the US (Warner Bros., WS 1768, burbank label), in 1979 in Japan (Warner Bros., P-4704W), in 1982 in the UK and Germany (Warner Bros., K-46024, with barcode). Re-issued on cassette in Australia (Warner Bros., M5-1768). Re-issued on CD in the US (Warner Bros., 1768-2) and in 1987 in Germany (Warner Bros., 246024). Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee in 1998 in the UK (Simply Vinyl, SVLP-20), on December 30, 2008 in the US (Warner Bros., R1-1768) and on June 29, 2009 in the UK (Rhino, 79907-1). Re-packaged w. Moondance + His Band And The Street Choir on 3CD in 2005 in Australia and Europe (Warner, 73243) and in 2008 in the UK (Rhino, 5144287115).

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