Thursday, 23 March 2017

Van Morrison - 40 lbs (underweight), outdoorsy, needs training

Van Morrison Near San Anselmo?

I hope you'll indulge me this bit of unintentional humour.  I just spotted this on the Save Our Scruff site.  


8 months l M l Golden Mix l 40lbs (underweight) l Med Energy l Outgoing l Outdoorsy l Needs Training

Van's Travelling Companions
Meet this bundle of golden fluff VAN MORRISON! VAN is just a big puppy and as such is currently learning the ropes and how to be on his best behaviour and he gets better every day! VAN is not suited to apartment living and is looking for a home with outdoor space as he ADORES being outside. He’s not even overly active while outside, just likes to chill and take in all that fresh air. He knows BBQ season is coming and he is readdyyy. He would likely be a great cottage dog. 

Inside VAN is still pretty chill and enjoys chewing bones and napping most of the day. Having a stash of bones/toys is key to keep VAN from getting bored and wanting to chew your stuff. In any case hide yo sneaks, hide yo pumps cuz VAN is obsessed with shoes and will hoard them ALL. VAN has been doing well with crate training so far and it’s recommended that his new family continue with this. VAN is house trained and currently goes on 4 walks a day (one long one and three quickies). He doesn’t really pull on his leash but tends to stumble around like its 3 a.m. on Queen West and he’s had a few too many. VAN is good with other dogs around his size but is a bit of a bully when it comes to smaller dogs and sometimes punches them just for fun. 

He doesn’t realise how big he is so would be best suited to a home with older children who he can’t knock over easily. He’s currently living with a cat and he’s digging it so far.  VAN is learning his basic commands like sit and paw but would benefit from some ongoing training – he’s very smart and very, very food motivated. VAN is affectionate but definitely not a lap dog and would prefer his own couch where he can snuggle with his one true love – his bone. Although when he wants your attention VAN can be a little demanding and bark/grumble/paw at you. If you’re looking for a fluffy BFF for some serious backyard hangs VAN just might be a scruff for you! 

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Van Morrison: Bang Masters (1991)

Rich Kamerman's Kamer Tunes Blog is a wide ranging music blog with lots of Van material.   Basically he takes an album by album approach. Here he takes on the Van Morrison: Bang Masters album.  

The Big “Bang”

By 1967 Van had left his R&B group Them, and at 21 years old he found himself at a crossroads. He recorded numerous songs for Bert Berns’ Bang Records label in New York, including the immediate hit single Brown Eyed Girl. Some of these were released in the ‘70s as the Blowin’ Your Mind and T.B. Sheets LPs, but Bang Masters was the first time all of the recordings were included on one collection.

Until I revisited this CD, my recollection was that these were recordings of then-current Brill Building songs using sessions musicians, so I was surprised to discover that all but one of the songs were written by Van himself (although I was right about the session musicians). On first listen, it sounded like half the songs were covers, as they didn’t have many elements of what I’ve come to expect from Van Morrison. However, after several listens in the last week, many of the songs grew on me, and I could hear his style in a somewhat embryonic state.

One of the things I love about Van’s music is his ability to vamp, either lyrically or musically. He can take a phrase and repeat it, altering it slightly as the song progresses.  He’ll coax new feeling or meaning from the lyric, or let the power of the groove build slowly. In years to come he could take this to extremes of 10+ minutes. The song The Back Room is an early indication of this approach, and it’s the first song that really stood out for me as I began my reappraisal of his catalogue.

Story songs like T.B. Sheets and Madame George (which he re-recorded for Astral Weeks, to be re-appraised later) are also standouts for me, although it’s clear that the musicians took the party atmosphere a little too literally on the latter. Even the seemingly tossed-off songs like Ro Ro Rosey and Chick-A-Boom grew on me with each listen. Van was clearly not in charge of these sessions, but he wasn’t quietly following everything the producer said (as most artists at the time were inclined to do) either. Supposedly these songs were all recorded in a few sessions over a short period of time, but it sounds to me as though the last batch of songs (starting with T.B. Sheets) were done later than the initial recordings. Van seems to be leading the musicians as opposed to playing along with them.

And then there’s Brown Eyed Girl, a song played so much on the radio, at your local bar, at nearly every sporting event, party, wedding, and possibly funeral. Many people probably claim to hate the song, mostly because it’s “overplayed.” I’ve always thought that a great song continues to be a great song, even if you get tired of hearing it. And to be honest, I’ve gotten tired of hearing it and often change the station when it comes on. But in the context of this collection of songs, it’s the anchor, the linchpin, the perfect introduction to a young artist who’s just finding his way. Most artists would kill for just one song this good, yet this was only the beginning for Van Morrison. It would’ve been a hit no matter when it was released.

Dina   -   Though Brown Eyed Girl may be “overplayed”, it always brings a smile to my face. As a little girl, I felt that my brown hair and brown eyes were ordinary. But, when I first heard that song, it made me feel pretty and special. I could swear Van was singing about me!

DanicaPiche   -   I’ve never thought about Van’s “ability to vamp”, but your phrase describes his talent perfectly. Your article also made me realise that I haven’t heard Brown Eyed Girl in a while. Strange….

DanicaPiche   -   The phenomenon of the “overplayed” song/artist would make an interesting blog post or series. I’d have to agree that Brown Eyed Girl has been played and played and then played some more. If I was ever at a music/dance venue and this song was played, I’d have to stop whatever it was that I was doing and dance with my friend — who was, of course, a brown-eyed girl. If I couldn’t find her in the crowd, I’d just go to the dance floor where she’d be waiting. How can you not love a song like that?

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl (2009)

You can see why Van can be contemptuous of journalists at times.  In the following review of Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl that appeared in The Spectator back in 2009, the main point of the piece is how weird it is that Van Morrison is smiling on the front cover.  Again, the classic cliche 'curmudeon' is used. Here’s some Charles Spencer’s ‘insightful’ piece. 

Keep on smiling

One of Van Morrison’s umpteen albums is called What’s Wrong with this Picture? It’s a question long-term fans are likely to echo as they contemplate the cover of his new release, Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl.

One of Van Morrison’s umpteen albums is called What’s Wrong with this Picture? It’s a question long-term fans are likely to echo as they contemplate the cover of his new release, Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl. What’s wrong is that Van Morrison is smiling. This is, to say the least, unusual.

Morrison is the most famous curmudgeon in popular music and he doesn’t do smiles. He prefers to appear on his record sleeves looking moody, depressed or downright aggressive. The brooding, pallid figure that appears on the front of one of his last truly great albums, Poetic Champions Compose (1987), looks so openly contemptuous that it must have had a terrible effect on sales. ‘You think you are good enough to listen to this?’ Van’s curled lip seems to suggest.

So improbable is the idea of a smiling Van that some are suggesting that the extraordinary cheerful image of him showing off his immaculately white and gleaming gnashers must have been Photoshopped. His record company has denied it. This really is Van Morrison, smiling benignly at his audience at a concert performance last year at the Hollywood bowl.

Almost as unlikely as that smile is the fact that Morrison has revisited his first officially released solo album. Over the years he has downplayed Astral Weeks (1968), which regularly comes near the top of those endless lists of the greatest albums of all time. And in a way one can understand why. It was recorded in just a couple of sessions with sceptical jazz musicians he had never worked with before. Morrison was 23, a young man in a hurry in New York after breaking up with that great Northern Irish rhythm and blues band Them. And he came up with a masterpiece that he has never bettered. It must be galling to plod on year after year, decade after decade, and know that your best, your unbeatable best, was recorded almost by accident right at the start of your solo career.

Astral Weeks is a record of love and loss, mortality and spiritual seeking. It is drenched in nostalgia for a vanished past, and seems to conjure many of its images from Morrison’s own Belfast childhood. The writing is dense with imagery, while the extraordinarily spontaneous music — apparently Morrison simply sketched the tunes on his guitar and expected the session men to follow, which they did, brilliantly — draws deeply from folk, blues and jazz.

I’ve been listening to Astral Weeks for 40 years and it is that rare thing, a truly inexhaustible pop record. What seems dense and intimidating at first eventually becomes a familiar and much-loved friend, though this is never an easy listen. The album burns with a rare, raw intensity. There are themes here that become leitmotifs throughout Morrison’s work — gardens all wet with rain, walking down by the railroad — and a feeling that spiritual enlightenment is strongly connected to carnal desire. ‘So young and bold/Fourteen years old’ an infatuated Van almost sobs at the end of Cyprus Avenue, though I notice this devastating line no longer has a place on the live recording.

So the first thing to be said is that Morrison is fully engaged here. There is a spontaneity and a sense of purpose we haven’t heard from him in a long time. The voice is deeper and rougher than it was four decades ago, but still highly expressive, and the band, with original guitarist Jay Berliner back on board, is in glorious form. There are passages where Morrison really stretches out, tacking on new improvisatory endings to some of the songs.

Freedom of Speech is Precious
But at least Van the Man is trying again, and perhaps this return to former glory will inspire him to come up with something equally new and fresh in old age. I have a horrible feeling, though, that Morrison will soon be back on autopilot, with more songs moaning about the iniquities of record companies and the misery of life in the public eye. 

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Born to Sing (2012) Dissed

The New Zealand Stuff blogspot released the following review of Van’s Born to Sing: No Plan B (2012).  Simon Sweetman is the journalist who concludes Born to Sing is well below Van’s best.  Click on the link above for the full article.

Hearing the best and worst of Van Morrison

Van Morrison has just released the rather lacklustre Born to Sing: No Plan B. It might as well be Too Long in Exile or Days Like This or The Healing Game or anything else he's released across the past 20 years. That is to say there are glimpses, there are glimmers, there are slight reminders of that earlier, fearsome, wonderful, sublime and otherworldly magic. But it's a fading photograph.  Mostly it's banal filler.  Born to Sing has him creating lyrics to the song Close Enough for Jazz - an instrumental resurrected from nearly 20 years ago. The result is something Diana Krall would probably turn her nose up at - yet, earlier on this same album Morrison tirades against "phony pseudo-jazz".

Reviews for Born to Sing: No Plan B have largely been positive - including a 4-star Rolling Stone review from David Fricke.  Fricke is still a trusted writer, an authority, a man of taste - but four- and five-star Rolling Stone magazine reviews reek of vested interest; of the powers that be assigning a rating and then a writer. In that order.

Born to Sing is no left turn here either. The title (and title song) gives an obvious clue and early on the record - when he's at least sounding passionate (the track where he bemoans the faux-jazz that he will go on to serve himself). Morrison spits out a line about "after everything I've worked for". You listen to his records post-1990 and he really hasn't done much work. He's talked a lot. But said nothing.

Too Long in Exile's title song was perhaps the nadir, "Too long in exile/Too long not singing my song" he said, barely trying. Announcing himself to the world - as if he'd been on anything but a self-imposed break (and it was only long by Van standards; a man who has pumped out far too many records for the good ones to stand up now and block out the bad). Too Long in Exile was dreary and lazy and it set a tone for albums with title songs that talk the artist up without really delivering anything to match the sentiment. Back on Top's title song has Van announcing that he's "Always strivin', always climbing way beyond my will" - in the middle of what would have been better titled Just Another Van Morrison Album.

Born to Sing: No Plan B makes you wonder what the Plan B might have or should have been - it reminds that this great contrarian, this all-too prickly pear, is a long way off that wild, mercurial sound that drove those wonderful records; albums that still allure, that still dazzle, that manage - still - to stand outside the time when they were created.

Astral Weeks is an album that still pulls me in every time; that mystifies, that conjures a range of emotions, that evokes a journey every time. And I could write at length about Moondance (the title track kills that record - just skip it and play everything else) or His Band and The Street Choir, Tupelo Honey, Saint Dominic's Preview, Veedon Fleece, A Period of Transition - and then the best bits of Common One, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, Hard Nose the Highway, No Guru, No Method, No Teacher and of course all of the live tour-de-force, It's Too Late to Stop Now - simply one of the great live albums by anyone. Ever.

There is so much to take in with Van Morrison - but he was always a grump so sure of his own importance. He even made up his own genre - Caledonian Soul Music - so as to stand out, to be clearly defined as the best at something. Thing is, back then, he backed it up. He delivered. He's been on glide time ever since...

Dr John worked with Morrison on A Period of Transition, a wonderful record that seems to have slipped under the radar in many ways. Dr John said of Van in his autobiography that he really was difficult to deal with, so horrible in fact, so cruel. Others have said the same. Arrogance taken to a new level, belligerence and stormy moods that threaten to unravel more than decent musicians doing their best to play for the cause and the song - but as Dr John said, every time Van opens his mouth you hear an angel - and it is as if all is forgiven; that horrible energy falls away, it melts. As people melt under that voice, fall prey to the inspiration of the music. To a sound.

Every time I hear a new Van Morrison album I'm sent back to the best material that he offered - records that stand up against anything offered by anyone, in terms of the true greats. But when I hear the worst of Van Morrison I am still inspired to go back and dig out the best of Van Morrison. It's just a shame that too many autopilot records and Brown Eyed Girl-milking compilations stand in the way of what was, at one time, an absolutely gobsmackingly brilliant, jaw-droppingly eclectic, electric body of work.


Rubbertoe   -   One of the best pieces of Van criticism I've ever heard was when Linda Clark was hosting Nine to Noon a few years back. Manu Taylor was playing some new track off yet another dull, irrelevant album. The track finished and Linda asked:
"How long was that song Manu?"
"Oh, about 4 and a half minutes I think Linda"
"Really? It seemed much, much, longer"

I too like Astral Weeks, most of Moondance, St Dominic's Preview, and lots not forget there are some killer Them tracks too, but, he does sound like a right bastard.

Eric   -   T.B. Sheets is his best track without a moment of doubt.

Dannydougherty   -   I don't know I thought Too Long in Exile was pretty good...and A night in San Francisco in my book is better than Too Late to Stop Now.  What is the guy supposed to do stay home and watch TV? Also it's like Paul Weller said about Days Like This. It's got 3 brilliant songs on it, 3 more than most.

Elmore Fudd   -   Have another listen to Days Like This. It would be in his top 5.  It's the only great album of his in the last 25 years though. His 70's live shows would have been great. He was incredible in The Last Waltz.

The Heavy Weight of Astral
Ken   -   What's Van got against Plan B? Plainly he's not into North London hip hop.

GerardC   -   The 80's was Van's best period. He was easily the best performing of the the 60's singer/songwrit­ers over this time.

Simplepartial   -   Veedon Fleece is Van's best record.

GerardC   -   Rubbish Simon. Van's last 20 years have been pretty good. A Night in San Francisco, Back On Top, The Skiffle Sessions are all great albums. I appreciate that Van is still making music and I would rather have the good material coming in patches over several albums than nothing at all.

Dr Zoidberg   -   Van Moro is well past his prime. If he were a deli salad, he'd be one of those ones that has been boxed up with a red, reduced sticker on it. Still edible, but highly likely to result in a stomach upset.

viffer   -   I have quite a few Van Morrison albums, mainly because some friends of mine at university in the late 70's / early 80's were HUGE Van fans. Otherwise I doubt I would have given him more than a cursory listen.
You're right that he's lost it over recent years; the last album we bought was Astral Weeks- Live at the Hollywood Bowl, and it's not the best. He sounds drunk (or else his false teeth don't fit properly) as his singing's pretty slurred (even more so than usual) and off-key, especially on the high notes. And there's one track in particular ("Beside You") that REALLY bugs me, as it sounds like his guitar is very out of tune, or the capo's not fitted properly.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

SXSW: Drinking Songs From Van Morrison (2008)

Jon Pareles’ brief review of Van’s appearance at the SXSW Festival nine years ago is another interesting review of the man’s in-concert skills.  The article gives the man the respect he deserves. No one has consistently delivered like Van in over 50 years in the business.  Even without  the $5 million dollar light show, the smoke machine, the pre-recorded backing tape support or the 50 back up dancers, the man still has it. 

SXSW: Drinking Songs From Van Morrison

Van Morrison, perpetual outsider, was right at home in Texas, where honky-tonk mingles with blues, R&B and country the way he does. In his club show at La Zona Rosa he looked as grumpy as he usually does, but he plunged into his music. Like Bob Dylan, Mr. Morrison tours steadily and changes from night to night; sometimes he’s inspired, sometimes he’s not. But maybe he had something to prove at South By Southwest, playing for an audience that mixed fans and the curious.

The Love Doctor
He wasn’t looking back. A recent album Keep It Simple (2008) has songs full of philosophy, regrets, complaints and confessions, and those were the songs he played: no safe oldies. The new songs keep his usual mixture of soul and country, with a little more electric blues guitar than he has been allowing lately. That added bite was redoubled in his voice: he attacked each line, jumping ahead, repeating words in a rush of syllables, scat-singing, even yodeling. He gets more expression from his timing than his tone, and he never just cruised; he pounced on every phrase, sly and wayward, playful and demanding.

As on the album, the finale, Behind the Ritual, was a drinking song from a man who doesn’t want to be a drunk, who used to be “talking all out of my mind,” any more. But the song longs for the old intoxication; he misses “drinking that sweet wine,” and the song had a gospelly buildup as he sang about getting “so high in the days gone by.” A drinking song, perfect for a Texas honky-tonk.


James Richards   -   Ol Van’s still got the juice. Been a lot of talk lately of over the hill songwriters who’ve lost the muse. However, Mr. Morrison remains a barn burner when he wants to be.

Roger Cohn   -   There is no better concert experience in the world than seeing/hearing Van the Man when he’s on.

Wayne M. Cohen   -   Ahhh…Van is simply the best. I had the pleasure of seeing him at the Masonic in San Francisco and he and his group just burned the place down.  His ability to gather together a group of talented musicians is–IMO–unmatched. I recently noticed a CD he did of country and western classics and thought NO Way he can pull that off–but as I listened to it I would have bet money that he grew up on the stage at the Grand ole Opery.  His range is just stunning.

Harvey DuMarce   -   I’m glad to hear Van Morrison is still rolling along like a fine old car. I love that guy’s music. Don’t care if he’s grumpy. I love grumpy. I began listening to him at Berkeley in the 1970s and my listening hasn’t stopped. Keep on rolling. Keep on with the great music. You make life so much more interesting.

Jim Feeley   -   Van Morrison has a direct telephone link to God. He is quite simply magic.

William   -   He is just the Top. Saw him at the Heinken Music Hall in Amsterdam in November and at N.O. JazzFest a year ago. He remains, IMHO, without peer, so eclectic, so powerful, so talented, such perfect pitch. My generation has lived by his songs. But it is a special pleasure now to see my kids delight in his oeuvre as well. What a special treat he has given us all over all these years.

John S   -   I saw his Tuesday show at the Austin Music Hall. He was definitely ‘on.  The chatter about Van’s idiosyncrasies had lowered my expectations but I can say the show turned out to be the kind you dream of – each new song that came one after another arranged and performed with such skill that it grabbed you like one of your old faves. The only downer was the grumbling in the exiting queues – only two of Van’s standards were played. I guess most crowds who pony up big bucks (I paid 100 to stand) to see their heroes want a ‘Best of’ show. They framed it as commercialism – just trying to push the new CD.  What a shame they didn’t see it as I did – a master at work.

jimmyc   -   Can’t believe what I have just read. Really, listen to his albums…every song is sung exactly the same…same notes, same order, ever since Moondance. Plus you have to pay $235.00 for a good seat. Sorry, but I can’t go with the herd on this one.

Michael   -   Morrison’s powerful music holds up year after year but it should be noted that central to his talent is his ability to put a good band together. Astral Weeks is just an okay folk album without Richard Davis on bass. Re-listen to it and you will know what I mean.

Smokin Daddy Cool Love   -   Hey I know he great! but… as a working stiff I can’t afford his shows $125.00 or $265.00??

Ryan Albright   -   After writing songs like T.B. Sheets and Madame George, Van has nothing to prove about his greatness.

RM   -   “the same notes since Moondance?” There are only twelve, and he mixes them up better than anyone in the business. Funny how some people mistake evolution for stagnation because he isn’t rehashing Domino at every gig. You’ve got a point with the ticket prices, but you’ve obviously not given The Man a decent listening in a long time .. or seen him live. I’ve been listening for the last twenty years, including five live gigs in the last year alone, and you couldn’t be more off the mark.

jimmyc   -   Hey RM, I realize that there are only 12, but come on, Van has maybe four different attacks on those 12 and he has many CDs. that does not bode well for invention. Compare his ability with those 12 to say, Declan McManus and case closed. I have seen Van several times since the mid 70’s. Don't get me totally wrong, Van has written quite a few songs that I still love to play with my band in tribute. 

Nancy Cox   -   I introduced my son 19 to Van Morrison songs he would always sneak my CDs then I would hear him pulling into the yard playing Van Morrison of course then I knew he was the one that had it and I didn’t care. There was a song that he and I would always listen to Into The Mystic. I would grab his hand while riding in the car and tell him he was the most important thing in the world to me. As I ride in the car now I’ll play Into The Mystic and look over thinking of him wishing he were still here waiting for him to start singing. My son passed away at the age of 21 on January 7th, 2008. He still listened to Into The Mystic I will miss him dearly but I still have Into The Mystic and remember the times we rode down the road together sang and held hands. 

jimmyc   -   Van’s always been about repetition that transcends into something else, and this shouldn’t be confused with not having a “fresh attack.” His live performances sneak up on you if you’re paying attention and not just waiting for the opening licks of Brown Eyed Girl. And he’s the consummate example of a current working, travelling musician who is all about the music. I’d take McManus in a cafe with an acoustic, perhaps, and he’s an undeniably talented songwriter, but Van is still the Man (and you won’t catch him doing a guest spot on Frasier.)

Andre Labbee   -   Just finished listening to Astral Weeks.  What a joy,great band. I have listening from the beginning, I never tire, have every of his CDs, some are better than others, but you can find something to enjoy in the lesser ones.  He my man.