audiotrack The Essential Van Morrison

reviewed by Jill Hill

Published in Issue No. 14 ~ July, 1998

Van played at the Gorge outdoor amphitheater May 16 and 17 along with Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. I missed some of Bob because I could not convince my ride to arrive before the gate opened. I sat next to a girl from New Zealand, who had been there for three days and saw Taj Mahal and Dave Matthews Band and was watching the second night of Van, Bob and Joni. I was fairly envious, but I was there to see Van, and sometimes he plays an amazing live show, and sometimes he does not.

And I wanted that “did ye get healed” feeling.

For thirty odd years Morrison has been making music. If you only bought his CDs, you would have a good-sized collection. Because he has made a lot of music, it is hard to click on and make a decision.

The critics have always given Astral Weeks high praise. It is considered one of the most innovative and influential albums of the period, although for me it is more a musician’s album than a listener’s album. There are two Best of volumes. Normally, best of collections leave me cold, but Best of Van Morrison Volume Two and Volume One are essential to a good CD collection. They have all the hits and a few covers, most notably “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” by Bob Dylan on Volume Two and “Baby, Please Don’t Go” by Joe Williams on Volume One taken from the The Story of Them Featuring Van Morrison album. “Baby, Please Don’t Go” is a dirty little blues ditty, and mostly made up of the lines, “Baby, please don’t go. Baby, please don’t go. Baby, please don’t go down to New Orleans. Know I love you so. Baby, please don’t go.” And something about being a dog. The arrangement of the tracks does not jar the listener. One song segues nicely to the next. Van Morrison’s Moondance is a standard and contains “And It Stoned Me,” “Moondance,” and “Crazy Love.” And I like the CD Poetic Champions Compose with the ballad “Queen of the Slipstream.” Almost all Van Morrison fans own Hymns to The Silence. The newer Days Like This is uneven, but worth a listen. An uneven Van Morrison is still a hundred times better than a good Puffy or Janet Jackson or Hanson or . . .

However, the two CDs that take Van Morrison from the sixties and seventies into whole other realm are A Night in San Francisco and How Long Has This Been Going On with Gerogie Fame & friends. Both are ballads, blues, soul, funk and jazz. Johnnie Lee Hooker, Junior Wells, Jimmy Witherspoon help out on A Night in San Francisco. Brian Kennedy and daughter, Shana Morrison, also contribute vocals. Both CDs contain versions of “Moondance.” The San Francisco version blends it with “My Funny Valentine.” “Gloria” combines with “Shakin ‘All Over” and “Lonely Avenue” with “4 O’Clock in the Morning.” Rather than fall back on old hits, Morrison found a way to transform his music with an infusion of other forms.

Which is what I saw at the Gorge.

My friend kept asking if I thought he would play “Brown-Eyed Girl” and I told her no I didn’t think he would and he didn’t. Nor did he play “Gloria,” but he did blast out a rendition of “Moondance” that left me panting. Morrison stands on stage dressed in his black suit, white shirt, black hat, and just gets the music going, singing:

Reach out for him
he is there
when I am lonely, as I can be
Then I know God shines his light on me
heals the sick, and he heals the lame
Says you can do it too, in Jesus name
And he lifts you up, and he turns you around
And he puts your feet back, on higher ground.

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Jill Hill lives with some kids, some dogs, writes, and manages a restaurant where she tries out her new CD's. She listens to a variety of music, from Classical to Blues, but tries to stay away from most rap. In her words: "I am always on the look out for a new band or singer/songwriter that I will like. I like a CD that does not grow old and weary sounding, which mean I don't want buy a CD that can be found on the used CD sale table a month later. One of my favorite CD's is Neal Young's Everyone Knows this is Nowhere. My favorite writer is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and my favorite novel of his Of Love and Other Demons. X-Files is about the only TV I watch. I do not watch sitcoms and do not like music inspired by sitcoms. I'd rather listen to a sampled rap version of the Jetsons theme song."