Van Morrison Moondance: Album Review

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From the first beat of the opening track, And It Stoned Me, Van Morrison’s “Moondance” album is clearly going to be a different experience than its predecessor, the gorgeous “Astral Weeks.” The first understated sound of the snare drum and cymbals means a return to a more rock/jazz/blues band. While retaining some of the ethereal feel of his previous album, And It Stoned Me, starts us off with a pleasant, catchy song that’s rooted in reminiscence. With the look back at the sheer joy of youth that Van celebrated in Brown-Eyed Girl, but here with a buddy rather than a young love, it’s a calm song even as it celebrates exuberance.

Coming upon the title track, Moondance, it’s clear why it has sustained over for over four decades now as one of the most played of Van’s impressive recorded output. It holds it’s own with any of the great jazz songs. With drummer Gary Malabar playing with brushes, John Klinberg setting the heartbeat on bass, Jeff Labes virtuoso piano playing, and John Plantania figuring rhythmic jazz chords on guitar, Van Morrison shows an even newer aspect in his singing. He plays with the melody line, doing an astounding trilling effect at one point. Joined by Collin Tillton playing light and airy motifs on flute, the song is filled out with Jack Schrorer’s saxophone. Schrorer tops off the recording with by echoing that trilling sound sung earlier.

Crazy Love features Van taking even another vocal leap. Singing in a higher range, the sweetness of Morrison’s vocal reminds one of Smokey Robinson. This is a lovely homage to pure enthrallment. With each chorus of “love, love, love, love …” echoed by singers Emily Houston, Judy Clay, and Jackie Verdell the song just drips with sweet soul.

The next tune, Caravan, is one of the most infectious songs heard. With its emphasis on the “two” and “four” beats it immediately draws you in. Van lays down his vocal and the band builds slowly until you cannot resisting moving your body with the beat. Rather than back-up singers, Morrison double- and triple-tracks his voice to finish out the song with fade out that could go on forever and we wouldn’t tire of it.

Already loaded with brilliant songwriting, Into the Mystic, may be the strongest on this album. As if combining a sea chantey of his Irish heritage with Van’s evocation of nature and the spiritual, he somehow creates a funky and ethereal tune in the same

Come Running to Me, is a fast-paced, jaunty tune, with some boogie-woogie style piano by Jef Labes and a running-train rhythm pattern laid down by conga player Guy Masson. Coming out of the languid journey of the previous track, Come Running to Me races by in a simple and joyful two-and-a-half minutes.

An absolutely funky, opening with Van lyrically punching out the lines starts, These Dreams of You. With a two-tiered chorus the feel mellows out as the title lyric is sung. A sweet saxophone solo again touches upon the trilling effect, but this time it’s more imbued with the Memphis-soul sound.

Somewhere between a dirge and a gospel tune Brand New Day, moves like a slow march building in each new verse to a crescendo of a new vision filled with faith. Van’s “brand new day” and the preceding “and it feels like,” “and it seems like” is echoed by the background vocalists. Very uplifting in its structure and its words, this seems to be a musical template Morrison will return to the “Wavelength” album song Take It Where You Find It.

Everyone begins with a frenetic clavinet motif played by Jef Labes. Almost Bach gone rock,  it goes for a few bars before Van appears with an almost country-fair, Celtic feeling lyric. With flute and soprano sax in the mix, it’s like a happy Baroque piece, yet with the ever-present soulfulness of Morrison’s singing making it sound very much of the moment.

An infectious bass pattern kicks off the final cut on this stellar album. Glad Tidings has Van mixing the allegorical with concrete. Once again, the flowing and the jarringly rhythmic, the straight-forward and the enigmatic, are present even as he seems to be simply saying “hello and good cheer.”

With the chorus bespeaking “And we’ll send you glad tidings from New York” there’s a shout-out from the city where Van Morrison recorded this watershed album and to his upstate home where all the compositions were born in his most-creative mind. The band members were a new configuration and the result was nothing short of spectacular.

Moondance is an album which gave us a modern classic in the title track and several other songs that have been come mainstays in the performances of Van Morrison.

Van Morrison Moondance

Photo: By Jarvin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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