Make room on your list of top ten albums, because if Van Morrsion’s Moondance isn’t on there, you’ll want to add it. If you’ve never heard the album and if the majority of your exposure to Van Morrison has been “Brown-Eyed Girl” and covers of “Wild Night” or “Crazy Love” . . . well, I can relate. I didn’t hear the album until 1998 and was surprised to find that the man with such a gravelly, soulful voice was in fact, a little Irish guy. White, no less.
Moondance‘s precursor, Astral Weeks, favors a loose structure, relying on a meandering, early-jam band feel with Morrison’s solo vocals as the center-piece of each song. Lazy, upright bass lines and wandering flutes provide a backdrop for Morrison’s ruminations on growing up in Ireland, a lyrical style versed in the tradition of the Irish poets. Yet the songs refuse to conform to a format, which is why I even bring it up, since his next album Moondance favors the established verse/chorus motif with the repetition providing a comfortable first-time experience for anyone new to Van Morrison.
With subjects such as the awe and innocence of youth in the first track “And it Stoned Me,” to the thinly veiled sexuality of the title track, Van Morrison’s buttery croon and equally guttural vocals leave no facet of the human condition unexplored. It’s clear when you hear his early work that he was raised listening to such seminal blues/jazz artists as Leadbelly, Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton—who he gives a nod to in “And it Stoned Me” (I’ve heard that the term “jelly roll” refers to the male genitals and in the context of the song “He Ain’t Give You None” [from Blowin’ Your Mind and later re-released on T.B. Sheets] it very obviously does. But in the context of “And it Stoned Me,” it seems unlikely).
Perhaps some of Morrison’s most well-known tunes are found on Moondance, aside from the tattered “Brown-Eyed Girl” (which appeared in 1967). The oft-covered ballad “Crazy Love,” the cheery “Caravan” and my personal favorite, the ultimate anthem of any epic journey, “Into the Mystic.” The rest of the album? Also great. Less familiar, but catchy and genuine, like the blues-tinged “These Dreams of You,” another song acknowledging Morrison’s R&B influences (“And Ray Charles was shot down / But he got up to do his best“), culminating in three songs of hope and joy: “Brand New Day” replete with a gospel choir, “Everyone,” and “Glad Tidings”—so catchy, and yet so excellent with a groovy bass line to prove it.
Predictably enough, I bring you glad tidings and leave you to discover Moondance, one of the best albums of the ’70s and Morrison’s finest.
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