Astral Weeks Van Morrison
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- 1Astral Weeks07:04
- 2Beside You05:13
- 3Sweet Thing04:22
- 4Cyprus Avenue06:56
- 5The Way Young Lovers Do03:12
- 6Madame George09:41
- 8Slim Slow Slider03:20
Info for Astral Weeks
Astral Weeks was Morrison’s second album. Recorded in 1967 with a crew of jazzmen only one of whom he’d met or played with, he told them to more or less wing it, and they did, to remarkable effect. Not everybody liked this approach; “No prep, no meeting,” said double bassist Richard Davis, whose remarkable playing dominates the contributions of his fellow musicians. “He was remote from us, ’cause he came in and went into a booth… And that’s where he stayed, isolated in a booth. I don’t think he ever introduced himself to us, nor we to him…” The Velvet Underground’s John Cale—who was recording in an adjoining studio—echoed Davis’ comments about Morrison isolating himself from his fellow players, saying, “Morrison couldn’t work with anybody, so finally they just shut him in the studio by himself. He did all the songs with just an acoustic guitar, and later they overdubbed the rest of it around his tapes.” But this is untrue; Morrison WAS in a separate booth, but the other musicians were playing along in another room, all but the strings and horns that is, which were recorded after the songs had been recorded.
'Morrison's first full-fledged solo album sounded like nothing else in the pop-music world of 1968: soft, reflective, hypnotic, haunted by the ghosts of old blues singers and ancient Celts and performed by a group of extraordinary jazz musicians.' (Rolling Stone)
Astral Weeks is generally considered one of the best albums in pop music history. For all that renown, Astral Weeks is anything but an archetypal rock & roll album: in fact, it isn't a rock & roll album at all. Employing a mixture of folk, blues, jazz, and classical music, Van Morrison spins out a series of extended ruminations on his Belfast upbringing, including the remarkable character 'Madame George' and the climactic epiphany experienced on 'Cyprus Avenue.' Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, Morrison sings in his elastic, bluesy voice, accompanied by a jazz rhythm section (Jay Berliner, guitar, Richard Davis, bass, Connie Kay, drums), plus reeds (John Payne) and vibes (Warren Smith, Jr.), with a string quartet overdubbed. An emotional outpouring cast in delicate musical structures, Astral Weeks has a unique musical power. Unlike any record before or since, it nevertheless encompasses the passion and tenderness that have always mixed in the best postwar popular music, easily justifying the critics' raves. (William Ruhlmann, AMG)
Van Morrison, vocals, acoustic guitar
Jay Berliner, classical and steel-string acoustic guitars
Richard Davis, double bass
Larry Fallon, harpsichord on 'Cyprus Avenue'
Connie Kay, drums
Barry Kornfeld, acoustic guitar on 'The Way Young Lovers Do'
John Payne, flute, soprano saxophone on 'Slim Slow Slider'
Warren Smith, Jr., percussion, vibraphone
Recorded 25 September, 1 and 15 October 1968 at Century Sound Studios in New York City
Engineered by Brooks Arthur
Produced by Lewis Merenstein
One of music’s true originals Van Morrison’s unique and inspirational musical legacy is rooted in postwar Belfast.
Born in 1945 Van heard his Shipyard worker father’s collection of blues, country and gospel early in life.
Feeding off musical greats such as Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Muddy Waters, Mahalia Jackson and Leadbelly he was a travelling musician at 13 and singing, playing guitar and sax, in several bands, before forming Them in 1964.
Making their name at Belfast’s Maritime Club Them soon established Van as a major force in the British R&B scene. Morrison’s matchless vocal and songwriting talents produced instant classics such as the much covered ‘Gloria’ and ‘Here Comes The Night’.
Those talents found full astonishing range in Van’s solo career.
After working with Them’s New York producer Bert Berns on beautiful Top 40 pop hit ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ (1967), Morrison moved to another realm.
Recorded over 3 days with legendary jazz musicians Astral Weeks (1968) is a still singular album combining street poetry, jazz improvisation, Celtic invocation and Afro Celtic Blues wailing.
Morrison would weave these and myriad other influences into the albums that followed in quick succession.
Reflecting on new life in America on the joyous Sinatra soul of Moondance (1970) and the country inflected Tupelo Honey (1971) he summoned old spiritual and ancestral life in the epic St Dominic’s Preview (1972) closer track Listen To The Lion.
Double live album Too Late To Stop Now (1973) highlighted Morrison’s superlative performing and bandleader skills. Mapping out a richly varied musical course throughout the 70s he shone among an all-star cast including Bob Dylan and Muddy Waters on The Band’s Last Waltz.
Indeed, borne of his Irish Showband instincts, the magic of the live performance has been a consistent feature of Morrison’s career.
Settling back into life in the UK in 1980 he released Common One an album centring on Summertime In England an extraordinary invocation of literary, sensual and spiritual pleasure the song would often become a thrilling improvised centrepiece to his live shows.
Steering his own course throughout the 80s on albums such as No Guru, No Method, No Teacher he claimed Celtic roots with The Chieftains on Irish Heartbeat. Teaming with Georgie Fame brought new impetus to his live show while Avalon Sunset saw him back in the album and single charts by the decades end.
Van Morrison continued to advance on his status as a game- changing artist through the 90s and into the 21st century.
Awards and accolades - a Brit, an OBE, an Ivor Novello, 6 Grammys, honourary doctorates from Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Ulster, entry into The Rock n Roll Hall of Fame and the French Ordres Des Artes Et Des Lettres - attested to the international reach of Van’s musical art.
Yet there was never any suggestion that Morrison, one of the most prolific recording artists and hardest working live performers of his era, would ever rest on his laurels.
Collaborations with, among others, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, Lonnie Donegan, Mose Allison and Tom Jones confirmed the breadth of his musical reach.
Morrison’s visionary songwriting and mastery of many genres continued to shine on albums celebrating and re-exploring his blues, jazz, skiffle and country roots.
The influence of the musical journey that began back in Post War Belfast stretches across the generations, and Morrison’s questing hunger insures that the journey itself continues.
Constantly reshaping his musical history in live performance, Morrison reclaimed Astral Weeks on 2009’s album Live At The Hollywood Bowl.
The subtitle of Van Morrison's latest album, Born to Sing: No Plan B, indicates the power that music still holds for this living legend. "No Plan B means this is not a rehearsal," says Morrison. "That’s the main thing—it’s not a hobby, it’s real, happening now, in real time."
With one of the most revered catalogues in music history and his unparalleled talents as composer, singer and performer Morrison’s past achievements loom large. But, as throughout his extraordinary career, how that past informs his future achievements and still stirs excitement and keen anticipation.
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