Van Morrison at His Finest Live

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vanmorrison_toolate_coverVan Morrison
..It’s Too Late to Stop Now… Volumes I, II, III, IV & DVD
(Legacy)
In A Word: Soulfully

When the first edition of this live album came out in 1974, I saw it on a Sunday in the window of a closed record store. I was tempted to break the window just to get my hands on it. A jury of my peers – which if we’re talking genuine peers would have to be not just Van the Man fans but enthusiasts – would have ruled it justifiable larceny.

My criminal temptations were proven understandable when I bought the album soon after. Its 18 live tracks across two vinyl discs brimmed with the passion, heart and mysticism that made Morrison a special artist even among so many special acts in a time of musical magic. It’s the kind of concert one might want to hear on arrival in the afterlife paradise: A smoking core rock combo with both horn and string sections – the 11-member Caledonia Soul Orchestra – backing a not simply gifted but truly blessed artist proudly singing his heart out from atop the peak of his youthful powers.

Related: Watch the video for “Too Late” from Morrison’s upcoming album Keep Me Singing

It provided many many hours of listening bliss. And offered a lively compendium of Morrison’s musical vision to date: his roots of Bobby “Blue” Bland (the swinging opener “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do”), Sonny Boy Williamson II (a lively take of “Help Me” with the band cooking on full flame) and Sam Cooke (a version of “Bring It on Home to Me” that builds from sparse and meditative to a soul celebration, with Van showing his finest singer’s stuff); his hits like “Here Comes the Night” (mixing two tempos and sounding like it’s from the U.S. south and not the streets of Northern Ireland) and a genuine audience singalong on a niftily grinding “Gloria;” joyful romps through “These Dreams of You” and (for nine-minutes-plus) “Caravan;” and Van’s magically soul-affecting mysticism on the uplifting “Saint Dominic’s Preview,” “Listen to the Lion” and 10 minutes of “Cypress Avenue” that play like musical Cinerama.

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The new release adds 45 tracks from the three Morrison concerts recorded for the original album at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Civic Center and The Rainbow Theatre in London. It would take far more space than available here to enumerate all the wonderfulness to be savored among them. I knew that as I listened to the seventh track on the first of these three new discs, “Purple Heather” – the closing song to Hard Nose the Highway, the studio album that preceded Van’s first live offering, and his rewrite of the traditional chestnut “Wild Mountain Thyme” – and this lovely shiver of pleasure ran down my spine.

This review could go needlessly long in praising, raving and even swooning over the many (many) wonderful moments in these additional tracks as well as the DVD from the Rainbow show. Suffice to say that all four audio discs brim with what a live concert should be as Van and the band change up their takes on songs and set lists from show to show. Hence having three versions of “Cypress Avenue” just adds to the magic, and two renditions of Van’s inspired take on Kermit the Frog’s Muppets song “Bein’ Green” is a delight. Kudos go to pianist/organist Jeff Labes, whose pianistics enhance every song, and guitarist John Platania, who throws in wondrous six-string sparks, howls, moans, flashes and much more throughout. There’s a bunch of fab covers that Van makes all his own like Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Lookin’,” “Since I Fell For You,” Brother Ray Charles’ “I Believe To My Soul” and the pop standard “Buena Sera” plus a bunch of Van album tracks that play as well as his marquee songs. With brilliantly clear sound, this set, all told, is a treasure trove of live rocking soul music and beyond that shines with eternal brilliance.

Rob Patterson

Rob Patterson

Rob Patterson began writing about music in 1976. Since his first published record review in Crawdaddy he has contributed to numerous national popular music magazines such as Creem, Musician, Circus, Spin, Request, Tower Pulse!, CD Review, Acoustic Guitar, Harp and many others along with major country music, consumer audio, musical instrument and studio recording magazines plus international publications New Musical Express and Country Music People in the U.K. From 1977 to '84 he wrote a nationally syndicated music column as well as stories for Newspaper Enterprises Association/United Feature Syndicate that ran in more than 400 daily newspapers across the nation. His work has also appeared in many weekly newspapers, onlinepublications like Salon.com and The Huffington Post, such books as the Rolling Stone Record Guide & Revised Record Guide, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Rock History and The Year In Rock, 1980-81, plus liner notes for 20 album releases.
Rob Patterson
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  1. Brad
    #1 Brad 17 June, 2016, 09:07

    Flying home to California having downloaded this expanded treasure. It makes the flight a wonderful experience. The original release is one of the finest live albums ever and now it overflows. Glad Van mended fences with his labels, kudos to Sony Legacy for the superb handling of all the reissues thus far.

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