Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Veedon Fleece by Van Morrison

I couldn't have said it better myself.  I've lifted a guy named Charlie's review of Veedon Fleece wholesale from his blog.  It's a really good piece of writing and I admire him for it.  People interested in music might find some other things there of interest. 

When I first started doing this Van blog I said I'd never do that.  I thought I'd include only snippets of other people's stuff and just link to it.  Now I find links grow dead and people's blogs and sites just disappear.  So in the interest of preserving good Van material from sites which seem a little inactive (three years or more without posts) I will include articles in their entirety from time to time.  Hope that doesn't offend the purists too much.  (A fellow Australian Van fan I know named Mark might tease me with, "That's not your authentic voice then.")  

So be it.  Here's a great review of a great album with a few fan comments following: 

Veedon Fleece by Van Morrison

There’s not that much mystery left in music. For everything that’s not readily disposable, there’s a lineup of reporters, publicists, critics, interviewers, and yeah, bloggers ready to compress works into digestible angles. Backstories get told, lyrics get explained, and meanings get narrowed down. It’s just a fact of business marketing that sales depend on publicity and that publicity depends on access. But sometimes I can’t help longing for a time before 24-hour information cycles, before news stories documented every footfall of a band, before we were all plugged-in infovores. In this pre-dialup utopia, all we have at our fingertips is a general sense of an artist, a few vague reference points in his biography, and a round vinyl disc of music in front of us. Buying an album is still an event, and we’re still practically trembling as we undo the plastic.

There’ve been a few albums this decade that have retained their mystery for me. Even in the face of magazine covers and analytic reviews, works like Joanna Newsom’s Ys and Sigur Ros’s catalogue are still too dense and singular for me to reduce. Even with back stories, even with identifiers they’re constantly tagged with, they've kept on dwarfing and defying their categorisations. But the work that's most successful at enchanting me endlessly is an older one, Van Morrison’s Veedon Fleece from 1974. No matter how closely I listen to it, or what I read about it, it only seems to take on more folds. The more I admire its simplicity, the more complex it paradoxically grows.
Confident I won’t be able to demystify it too much, a little background: Veedon Fleece was a back-to-basics reboot for an artist who never hewed too closely to genre specifications anyway. After his divorce and disbanding his orchestra, Morrison returned to his hometown of Belfast for the first time in eight years. There and upon his return to America, he wrote Veedon Fleece in a few weeks, infusing a healthy gulp of Ireland into the subjects, lyrics and music. Closest stylistically to his classic Astral Weeks, the album also relies on a stream-of-consciousness and is largely acoustic. But unlike that other work, critics mostly dismissed it and the record-buying public shunned it.

Now for the more intangible: Morrison’s always been a leading figure in blue-eyed soul, but on Veedon Fleece, his voice sounds weirder and more idiosyncratic. The soul is still very much there, but his impassioned phrasings and ethereal falsetto are all his own. It’s hard to forget his anguished howl at the end of Cul de Sac, his guttural, throat-clearing guffaws on Bulbs. His tendency vocally to adapt and elongate at will fit the lyrics perfectly, which also tend to meander and drift like a back country river. Every song, even the largely straightforward Comfort You, bends and twists on repeated listens, stripped-down and cryptic and multifaceted all at once.

Along the way, Morrison cites Poe, Thoreau, Wilde, and Blake and his Eternals. That set of influences gives us a sense of just how poetic, natural, supernatural, and mystical his own work is. On the longest song, the sprawling eight-minute-fifty-second You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push The River, he details a homecoming to the fluttering strands of flute: “We're goin' out in the country to get down to the real soul,/ I mean, the real soul people,/ We're goin' out in the country, get down to the real soul/ We're gettin' out to the west coast/ Shining our light into the days of bloomin' wonder/ Goin' as much with the river as not.” Those issues of authenticity and self-discovery in nature seem especially Wordsworth-Romantic and Thoreau-transcendentalist, with Ireland, "God's green land," standing in for Tintern Abbey or Walden. From there, specifically alluding to Blake, he sings of a search for the titular Veedon Fleece. As far as I’ve been able to tell, it’s a mythical object of Morrison’s own invention, his own Holy Grail much in the way Blake dreamt up his Beulah.

Earlier, Morrison composes another mythical figure, Linden Arden, who’s a little easier to parse. Led by a sullen piano intro, Linden Arden Stole The Highlights Veedon Fleece as Arden is in America, and among references to Killarney lake and Arklow streets, the mention of San Francisco can be jarring. And yet it also fits beautifully in an album indelibly defined by struggle and searching, of people looking for home and existing in flux.
Baby Boomers Eye Chart
 There remain moments on Veedon Fleece that I wish I understood better. Sometimes, I can’t help wishing I knew which references are directly autobiographical, which are simply fantastic, and which are a redolent mash of the two. At the same time, I’m glad that this album came out in the '70s, when artists still had auras and works could still permeate listeners on their own terms. But I have a feeling, even if it were just being released today, that Veedon Fleece still wouldn’t unravel or surrender its knots of mysteries. It wouldn't be any less of a soothing antidote or a roving puzzle. After all, even after ten years of having it in my collection, it’s still just as alluring and affecting and incredible as it’s ever been.

Sample Reader Comments

The Sanity Inspector   -   I read Van's interview in Rolling Stone in the late 80s, wherein he said that fans asked him if he still had the dogs from that photo. "Listen, an album cover is not real life!" he said.
Ekko   -   I love that album--haven't listened to it in ages. Forgot how good it was. Great post.

Anonymous   -   I remember acquiring my 2nd copy of Veedon Fleece back in the mid-70's out of the cut-out bin. Already I was sure that the album was by far the best Van had ever produced. And now years later I am glad someone has the same attachment to this truly excellent album that still sounds new today. 

Obligatory Sheep Photo

Samuel   -   Veedon Fleece is currently out-of-print, but there are still a few used copies on Amazon." Now just recently made available along with nearly the complete Morrison catalogue on iTunes. Glad I downloaded the full album; this one somehow slipped through the cracks in my long attentiveness to one of the great vocalists from Astral Weeks to Pay the Devil.

Anonymous   -   Van Morrison is a lifetime project, indeed. A mystic. A searcher. I love Van. I hope I never meet him! I just want to hear him sing.

Anonymous   -   I find Fair Play to you particularly affecting and I can't explain why. This album takes several listens to get into for the first time listener but once you do this you can be hooked!

Anonymous   -   Veedon Fleece is among my all time favourite records, alternately revelatory and enigmatic, and definitely best savoured late at night or early in the morning, with no distractions. The only other artists that affect me in a similar way are Gene Clark and Townes Van Zandt, putting This record in rarefied company.

David    -   I listened to Linden Arden several times today . . . and the first two times tears came to my eyes. I don't know why. I'm a 52 year old lawyer and crying is not what I do (last time was when my mother died on Christmas day 2006). I've heard the song described, I think accurately, as "ferociously mournful."

Anonymous   -   Same thing here David/ 54 year old watching Sport - my dog noted my sudden sobbing and jumped up for a drink of tears. Most unusual.

Anonymous   -   i too am in the company of being singularly effected by this album. why? who is Linden Arden?where is the Veedon Fleecelike this album, it is shrouded in mystery.

Anonymous   -   Re: demystifying the lyrics in Veedon Fleece. I could reveal a lot, but I don't get any pleasure in bursting bubbles. It's usually a lot less "mystical" than folks want to imagine.For one example, Van sings on Fair Play, that "there's only one Meadows Way to go, and you say GERONIMO." The truth is that he was deciding where to live and begin his new life. His fiancee wanted to move to the bucolic West Marin town of San Geronimo, on Meadow Way. They lived there happily for several years.Pop! What's that sound?!

Pinup Nights   -   I am crazy about Van Morrison, and Linden Arden Stole The Highlights must be one of his best ever songs. Its a very mysterious tune but in a few sentences Van conjures the sunlight and slopes of San Francisco. I would describe the piano as "beautiful" rather than "sullen". That small grumble aside this is a fantastic review, thank you!!

Plush   -   Pulled out my original copy of Veedon Fleece today after more than 10 years and listened-- stunned again.  Linden Arden is surely a masterpiece and more so of one since it is so short in length. The poetry and expression is far beyond what I remembered and the depth of emotion is mind blowing.  I really like what you wrote about it too.

Anonymous   -   How is it possible that this masterpiece is out of print?  I can buy Chocolate Rain on itunes but not this.. such a crime.

Anonymous   -   Such an excellent review, I love the insightful in to one of my all-time favourite albums. You tap in to Van's genius.

custom paper writer   -   Besides that much of Morrison's music is structured around the conventions of soul music and R&B, such as the popular singles Brown Eyed Girl, Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile), Domino and Wild Night.

Richard   -   I always seem to come across people telling me that Astral Weeks is the greatest album by Van Morrison. Not for me. Veedon Fleece is like taking a seat in an old Irish tavern with the fire roaring in the corner, and listening as a wise old travelling man sings you the story of his life; all the people he's met, all the adventures he's had, all the questions he's pondered and all the places he's gone. It's an incredible album. Astral Weeks is very good but, it's not like this.

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