Friday, June 02, 2006

"And It Stoned Me To My Soul"

Van Morrison's MOONDANCE (1970) might well be a perfect album. It is an amazing achievement of mellow folk-rock/jazz fusion all captured in 10 tightly crafted pop songs. It is completely devoid of any late '60s psychedelia, and it certainly ignores any heavy-rock trends of its time. Hell, you could probably play it for your grandparents. And, yet, it never quite crosses into sheer elevator-music-territory, either.

Side one
And It Stoned Me - 4:30
Moondance - 4:35
Crazy Love - 2:34
Caravan - 4:57
Into the Mystic - 3:25
Side two
Come Running - 2:30
These Dreams of You - 3:50
Brand New Day - 5:09
Everyone - 3:31
Glad Tidings - 3:13

All songs were composed by Van Morrison, and Van produced the album as well, with the exception of the title track, which was produced by Lewis Merenstein. The album is filled with amazing arrangements employing a wonderful blend of acoustic guitar, piano, organ, and magnificent horns. And, of course, Van provides his usual (and incredible) soulful vocals. It's great mellow music, but not put-you-to-sleep mellow. It just feels "grown-up", at least that's the way I felt buying it as a teenager (lo those many years ago--mid to late '80s, as I recall).

My possession of this one LP relieves me of any need to buy any of about 10,000 different albums later crafted in a similar vein, but that all pale in comparison. I'm on cloud nine after this re-discovery. Why did I go 12-15 years without listening to a great album such as this? I have no idea, but the excitement of the re-discovery is pretty cool.

"And It Stoned Me" (or simply "Stoned Me" on the back of my album jacket) is a perfect opener. I think it's my favorite song on the album. Of course, unlike many of my albums, the gap between my favorite and least favorite songs here is pretty slim. The title track follows, and is an absolute classic. It's romantic and direct, but tasteful, and with a great interplay between the piano and flute.

"Crazy Love" seems destined to cross the line into too-syrupy-sweet territory, and yet never does. Masterful. "Caravan" is upbeat and catchy. It almost defies the listener to sit still. It's just a great toe-tapper, a sing-along-with-the-refrain kind of song.

"Into the Mystic" is the perfect closer for the 1st side. The acoustic guitar is crisp, and the horns are peppy. It's just a great song. I'm not sure if there's a direct connection with Van's earlier song (recorded with his group Them) "Mystic Eyes". They're certainly different musically. Van must've just liked the word "mystic."

"Come Running" is an upbeat, relatively lightweight number. This might be the least indispensable song. Again, though, that's not to say it's not a good song. Of course, this was the "hit" single. I believe it sneaked into the Top 40, reaching #39 at its peak.

"These Dreams of You" is a nice, horn-based, medium paced tune. "Brand New Day" is slower, and piano-based. Van's soulful vocals are augmented by gospel-style backing vocals. "Everyone" is a sparsely arranged, but upbeat keyboard/flute combo ("Ev--e--ry--one, Ev--e--ry--one, Ev--e--ry--one...").

"Glad Tidings", with its "la-la-la-la-la-la...", is just tooooo catchy. What a great closing song! It inspired me to flip the record right back over and listen all the way through again (and again). GREAT album!

By the way, unlike the Jeff Beck albums I reviewed the last couple of days, the RS "Top 500 Albums" list does acknowledge Moondance. In fact, they have it at #65, which is pretty high praise, I suppose. The odd thing is, they have its predecessor, Astral Weeks, way up at #19! Methinks they might have these two albums switched with each other. I suppose I'll have to listen to Astral Weeks next. For some reason, I remember thinking Moondance was head and shoulders above it...Hmmm, maybe it's just my bias against string section accompaniment, which I vaguely recall Astral Weeks being filled with. My natural tendency is to prefer horns to strings. In any event, Moondance comes HIGHLY recommended by the Haahnster.


Blogger Rob said...

This sounds like a great record. I have been considering going on a Van Morrison kick, maybe I will begin one...

9:59 AM, June 02, 2006  
Blogger rabidt said...

Nice change of pace. You've inadvertently put some fightin' words at the end of the post in regard to Astral Weeks. Not that I'm the type to fight about it, but I thought I'd post this in order to dissuade members of the Astral Weeks army from going apeshit here on your blog. I can feel it lurking out there. Everyone, let's let him listen to it again, and then he can report back to us! You might still like this one better, but I think you'll find Astral Weeks to have many merits, one of which is the excellent accompaniment (with no excess bullshit IMO).

11:18 AM, June 02, 2006  

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