Van Morrison | Astral Weeks – Lost Gem

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When he made Astral Weeks, Van Morrison finally tore away the mask he wore during his days as the angry young front man for Them. Released in 1968, Morrison’s woeful, bluesy intonations are awash in lush, rich and jazzy instrumentation — a striking contrast to songs like “Gloria” and the goaded stance he had previously held. Close listeners, I imagine, knew he had it in him. On tracks like “Madame George” or “Cyprus Avenue,” Morrison emotes the heartfelt lines with an extra surge of conviction, which was definitely an underlying characteristic.

A lot of credit has to go to producer Lewis Merenstein and the cast of backing jazz musicians he rounded up. In preparing for the record, there was hardly any verbal communication between the session players and the reclusive singer during the two days of recording at New York’s Century Sound Studios. Drawing on pure instinct, it’s an amazing testament that the album has such a consistent and collective feel to it.

When it came out, Astral Weeks was not a commercial success. That didn’t stop the music critics of the day from falling over each other in giving it praise. There was something enchanting in the way Morrison spun tales about the streets of Belfast — whether dealing with young lovers or ballerinas. Here was an artist — still in his twenties — who had suddenly grown somnolent and reflective.

From Astral Weeks onward, Van Morrison never lost his momentum. He established a style that eventually took flight, and by the early 70s, won over the required sales as well as the respect he so richly deserved. And yes, Van the Man still continues making records and touring. Whether or not he has another Astral Weeks in him would be — as is everything about him — hard to speculate. For most mortals, one should certainly be more than enough.

~ Shawn Perry

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