Happy Birthday to me !
My parents were coming around for dinner one Sunday and I was fretting about what music to play. I decided on Van Morrison, his music is reasonably inoffensive and it’s kinda tinged by Jazz so I thought my Dad would be OK with it. When he arrived and settled in my Dad asks “Is this Van Morrison ?” I answered in the affirmative, pleased that he’d noticed. Then my Dad says “Oh turn it off would you. We saw him at the Brecon Jazz Festival, can’t stand the cantankerous old bugger” !
Stories are legend about Van The Man’s miserable stage presence and his sometimes less than polite interactions with his musicians (I once saw him stop mid song to make the drummer apologise for a mistake that none of the audience had noticed. All this time his organist, the great Georgie Fame, was sat behind his Hammond roaring with laughter). But that confrontational side of him doesn’t reveal itself in his music.
At this point Van was making a hybrid Celtic Soul tinged with Jazz. Think of the title song, one you’ll undoubtedly have heard at some point, yet another that’s been done to death at open mic’s, and that’s a pretty good baseline for the album as a whole. After the failure, sales wise, of his previous album “Astral Weeks” Morrison moved to the Catskills Mountains to write “Moondance” as a more structured, song based album rather than “Astral Weeks” more improvisational Folk-Jazz. He said of the two albums later on "I make albums primarily to sell them and if I get too far out a lot of people can't relate to it. I had to forget about the artistic thing because it didn't make sense on a practical level. One has to live.", a statement I’m quite surprised he would make.
“Stoned Me” and “Into The Mystic” are the most perfect examples of Celtic Soul. the lyrical themes are pastoral and folky but in the background you have a horn section sounding like it arrived straight outta Memphis. “Into The Mystic” sits at the very heart of “Moondance” and is one of its best known songs. Lyrically it’s very clever, is that opening line “We were born before the wind” or is it “We were borne before the wind” ? There are other lines like that throughout the song. It’s been covered many many times, most notably in my world by the Icicle Works and Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit.
It’s not usually the sort of thing I buy but I heard final track “Glad Tidings” in an episode of The Sopranos (for those that know it, it’s the episode where Tony Soprano kills his cousin Tony Blundetto played by Steve Buscemi) not only did I figure it would sound good played on a big system it’s a great example of the attention to detail the Sopranos production crew put into the tiniest details. The lyric you hear when Tony S shoots Tony B is “And we'll send you glad tidings from New York” which when you know why Tony S shoots Tony B is as pertinent as pertinent can be. So I bought this album and I was right, it sounds great on a DJ rig and I’ve spun it a few times since.
The more I’ve listened to “Moondance” recently the more I’ve come to like it. I used to fall asleep listening to “Astral Weeks” on tour busses (pronounced buzzes, I’m a Brummie), I found it very soothing and never got through the second track before I was spark out. “Moondance”s mix of folk, soul and jazz is much more engaging.
Glad Tidings - https://youtu.be/EW2TfQsSA7Q?si=3TBthnq-TdrIrG3Y