Veedon Fleece by Van Morrison

Buy Veedon Fleece

This album review is provided by Mike Fishman, who has written about Van Morrison for the Mystic Avenue blog and writes about film for IndependentFilmNow.com.

Veedon Fleece by Van MorrisonAny musician with a career spanning 50 years is going to hit at least a few major milestones and when you’re talking about an artist as prolific as Van Morrison the milestones inevitably start piling up. This past Fall of 2019 found many longtime fans celebrating 45 years since the release of Veedon Fleece, Morrison’s eighth studio album and one of his lesser-discussed yet just as affecting works. This October 1974 studio release, heavily influenced by Morrison’s Irish roots and personal life, shares a special kinship with 1968’s Astral Weeks as two albums that mirror and complement each other, in both subtle and overt ways.

While critically acclaimed upon it’s release, Astral Weeks did not initially sell well during a time when Morrison was financially struggling. His next (third) solo album, Moondance, would become his million-selling commercial breakthrough in 1970. Here, Morrison abandoned the previous record’s abstract folk compositions and composed more accessible and rhythmic songs. This commercial and/or critical success continued with his subsequent albums – His Band and the Street Choir (1970), Tupelo Honey (1971), Saint Dominic’s Preview (1972) and Hard Nose the Highway (1973).

All of the songs on Veedon Fleece were composed and produced by Morrison with most written in his native Ireland in October 1973. The album features prominent acoustic guitar, bass, flute and strings with the vocals delivered with an intensity and a narrative approach in the lyrics that is seen less frequently elsewhere. While Morrison would continue to mine sites of remembrance from his youth in Belfast, few other albums are as steeped in that setting as this one.


Veedon Fleece by Van Morrison
Released: October, 1974 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Van Morrison
Recorded: Mercury Studios, New York & Caledonia Studios, Oakland, CA, November 1973-Spring 1974
Side One Side Two
Fair Play
Linden Arden Stole the Highlights
Who Was That Masked Man
Streets of Arklow
You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push the River
Bulbs
Cul de Sac
Comfort You
Come Here My Love
Country Fair
Primary Musicians
Van Morrison – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Ralph Walsh – Guitars
James Trumbo – Piano
David Hayes – Bass
Dahaud Shaar – Drums

 

Veedon Fleece opens with the second longest song on the album. “Fair Play,” and introduces a markedly consistent sound and feel that will inform the rest of the album with a mix of folk, jazz, blues and soul as well as lyrics incorporating Morrison’s Irish roots. Here, James Trumbo‘s piano is at the forefront, playing off of Morrison’s committed vocals with a gentle melody that falls into place than charges ahead. “Linden Arden Stole the Highlights” continues the album in an introspective mood. Trumbo’s piano opens the song tenderly, with notes of melancholy and regret until Morrison enters, assured and conversational with the lyrics now directly narrative and naming the main character. Morrison sings hard, barking out words, biting them off at times, and utilizing a falsetto that soars over acoustic guitar and strings. His impassioned vocals grow intense when he darkly draws out the word “hatchet.” Across just two and half minutes a story emerges of a hard-drinking man hiding out in San Francisco after having “stole the highlights” with “one hand tied behind his back.”

The third song on Veedon Fleece connects directly to its predecessor with the first line of “Who Was That Masked Man” echoing the closing line of “Linden Arden Stole the Highlights,” now detailing the loneliness of “livin’ with a gun.” Morrison again adopts a falsetto that lends urgency to the mournful melody as acoustic guitar dances around the sung lines. The title can’t help but evoke the Lone Ranger; a symbol of the America that Morrison was taking a respite from but the protagonist here is no hero in the traditional sense. There is a palpable sense of paranoia and of being watched with the image of a fish inside a bowl, an image Morrison would return to years later on one of his many songs about the pitfalls of fame, “Goldfish Bowl.” “Streets of Arklow” is notable as a culmination of the intermingling of the folk, soul and blues of its preceding three songs and the first song on the album where Morrison starts to really let loose. It’s a song enraptured with beauty and the sharing of beauty with another. “Streets of Arklow” is supported by gliding strings, at times murmuring in the background, then swelling darkly, to give the song a strong sense of movement until it comes to an abrupt stop that feels immediately picked up by the next song, “You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push The River”. The centerpiece of the album, this side one closer is the longest song on the album with hard-strummed acoustic guitar and scat singing as strings swirl and a flute trills against probing piano. The journey in “You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push the River” is partly down memory lane but mostly in the clear present, possibly conjoining images of Ireland and America.

Van Morrison in 1974

Opening Side Two of Veedon Fleece, “Bulbs” is strikingly jaunty with Morrison’s vocals featuring a country-blues “hey, hey, hey” along with some deep grunting that suggests a tuba. “Cul De Sac” marks a return to the more introspective feel of the album. Bluesy piano and guitar drive the song as Morrison delivers one of his most impassioned vocals on record, as he emphasizes nearly every word, enunciating, stretching vowels and repeating syllables. “Comfort You” descends gently, with Morrison singing sweetly, a guitar fluttering and strings entering, caressing the melody, while “Come Here My Love” opens with spare guitar and finds Morrison singing in a more direct manner, almost conversational although occasionally elongating a word. “Country Fair” closes the album with guitar, bass and synthesizer whispering behind Morrison’s wistful vocals as Jim Rothermel‘s recorder remains prominent throughout. The delicate melody and impassioned singing create an atmosphere both restless and calming to close the album.

Veedon Fleece has been referred to as Van Morrison’s “forgotten masterpiece” and its influence reverberated through the music of scores of artists for decades to come. After a decade without taking any time off, Morrison took a hiatus from music following the album’s release and would not release a follow-up album for three years.

~

1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1974 albums.

Share and Enjoy !

0Shares
0 0

Into the Music by Van Morrison

Buy Into the Music

Into the Music by Van MorrisonVan Morrison completed his impressive 1970s output with his classic 11th studio album, Into the Music in 1979. The album features a large ensemble of musicians and singers to back Morrison’s distinctive, soulful and oft-improvised vocals, with many of the lyrics celebrating life, love and other positive themes. The album’s title was taken from a 1975 biography of Morrison by Ritchie Yorke, which is a play on the song title “Into the Mystic” from 1970’s Moondance album.

Moondance was Van Morrison’s first million selling album and it was quickly followed by a couple more albums which were critically and commercially successful, His Band and the Street Choir later in 1970 and Tupelo Honey in 1971. Both of those albums also produced hit singles but Morrison decided to break from that formula with a trio of meditative, poetic and experimental albums, Saint Dominic’s Preview in 1972, Hard Nose the Highway and Veedon Fleece in 1974. By this point the artist had been working almost non stop for nearly a decade, so he decided to take an extended hiatus. He returned in 1977 with the release of A Period of Transition, a collaboration with New Orleans legend Dr. John, followed by the synth-heavy album Wavelength in 1978.

Morrison wrote most of the songs for Into the Music while staying in a rural English village and would often compose while walking through the fields with his guitar. The album was recorded in early 1979 at the Record Plant in Sausalito, CA with co-producer/engineer Mick Glossop and released in the summer of that year.


Into the Music by Van Morrison
Released: August 1979 (Mercury)
Produced by: Mike Glossop & Van Morrison
Recorded: Record Plant, Sausalito, CA, 1979
Side One Side Two
Bright Side of the Road
Full Force Gale
Steppin’ Out Queen
Troubadours
Rolling Hills
You Make Me Feel So Free
Angeliou
And the Healing Has Begun
It’s All In the Game
You Know What They’re Writing About
Primary Musicians
Van Morrison – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Herbie Armstrong – Guitars, Vocals
Mark Jordan – Piano
David Hayes – Bass
Peter Van Hooke – Drums

 

One of the more upbeat tracks, “Bright Side of the Road”, opens the album. The song is a lyrical and musical celebration to its core and is both expertly performed and produced, even if its single release failed to reach the Top 40. “Full Force Gale” continues the upbeat trend but with a more country flavor due to the prolific fiddle by Toni Marcus and a slide guitar lead by Ry Cooder. The lyrics by Morrison are explicitly spiritual as he describes the feeling of encounters with “the Lord”.

“Steppin’ Out Queen” is a jazzy pop track featuring fine piano by Mark Jordan and a rich arrangement with brass and backing vocals are excellent additions to make this a rich arrangement which still leaves plenty of space for Morrison’s soulful vocals. “Troubadours” is a rather unique ballad with instrumentation that includes fanfare, flutes, and violin all over Jordan’s simple piano and the bass rhythms of David Hayes, while “Rolling Hills” is a pure Irish folk song with fiddle, mandolin and perfectly executed vocal delivery. The celebratory first side concludes with the melodic and pop-oriented “You Make Me Feel So Free”, a stellar example of well-produced late seventies sound, complete with a sax lead by Pee Wee Ellis.

Van Morrison

For this album, Morrison set out to “return to something deeper and once again take up the quest for music”, and this is most evident on the spontaneous and transcendent second side. On “Angeliou”, an otherwise very English folk song with harpsichord, the repetitive lyrics are beautifully delivered by Morrison’s summoning every vocal trick at his disposal, while later spoken word sections are accompanied by the distant, beautiful vocalizing by Katie Kissoon. “And the Healing Has Begun” is another Gospel ballad with a simple, rotating chord structure, leading to the climatic medley built on the 1951 cover “It’s All in the Game”, with a very relaxed and subtle unfolding of the song and arrangement. “You Know What They’re Writing About” is, essentially, the long outro to the previous track which offers Morrison a final opportunity for dramatic vocal gymnastics, where he fluctuates from a whisper to a crescendo.

Into the Music reached the Top 30 on the UK Charts and received widespread acclaim with some critics listing it as one of the year’s best albums. The release finished off a legendary decade of output for this artist who continues to perform 40 years later.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

1979 Images

 

Share and Enjoy !

0Shares
0 0

Moondance by Van Morrison

1970 Album of the Year
Buy Moondance

Moondance by Van MorrisonWe’ve covered more music from the year 1970 than from any other year at Classic Rock Review. Through these nineteen articles covering twenty-three different albums, we’ve observed some of the finest rock groups as they branched out to embrace some roots or otherwise raw musical genres. Through all that great music, we believe that no one hit the sweet spot like Van Morrison and the most and authentic, entertaining and timeless effort of his long career, Moondance. Morrison blends diverse styles such as jazz, folk rock, country, R&B, and American soul with potent melodies and pristine arrangements, all on a cohesive album which always sounds fresh. For these reasons, we have chosen Moondance as our album of the year for 1970.

Morrison’s previous album, Astral Weeks, was filled with impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness tunes and was recorded in just a few sessions in New York City in late 1968. After that recording, Morrison and his wife decided to move to upstate New York, where the composer began writing songs for a follow-up album. Despite the critical acclaim of Astral Weeks, its improvised nature did not lead to much commercial success and Morrison looked to strike a balance between musical integrity and audience accessibility.

Coproduced by Lewis Merenstein, fresh musicians were recruited for Moondance, starting in the summer of 1969. While all the tracks were composed by Morrison on acoustic guitar, he entered the studio with no written arrangements, leaving room for this album to grow organically with any riffs or fills generated spontaneously through jam sessions. The result is a record of renewal and redemption which is every bit as authentic as its predecessor while shedding that album’s dark and gloomy feel, as Morrison employs simple memories and nature motifs lyrically.


Moondance by Van Morrison
Released: February 28, 1970 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Van Morrison & Lewis Merenstein
Recorded: A & R Studios, New York, August–December 1969
Side One Side Two
And It Stoned Me
Moondance
Crazy Love
Caravan
Into the Mystic
Come Running
These Dreams of You
Brand New Day
Everyone
Glad Tidings
Primary Musicians
Van Morrison – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica
John Platania – Guitars
Jeff Labes – Piano, Keyboards
Jack Schroer – Saxophones
Colin Tilton – Flute, Saxophone
John Klingberg – Bass
Gary Mallaber – Drums, Percussion

The lyrics of Moondance seem to be symbiotically linked through the individual tracks with certain elemental themes reappearing throughout. One of these primary elements is water and nowhere is it more prominent than on the opening track “And It Stoned Me”. This nostalgic song about a day of adolescence in Ireland, speaks of walking to a fishing hole, getting caught in the rain, and ultimately receiving some H2O rejuvenation. Each lyrical line is filled with vivid yet poetic images and emotions while the moderate yet soulful rock sound features sax accents and a dual lead section featuring Morrison’s acoustic guitar and the piano of Jeff Labes.

The pure jazzy title tune is built on a walking bass pattern of John Klingberg, subtle piano chords by Labes and a great overall melody by Morrison. It later features a jazzy sax lead by Jack Schroer The lyrics of “Moondance” are specifically a tribute to the autumn season as well as romance in general and this hit song did not actually chart until 1977, seven years after its release. “Crazy Love” features Motown inspired, high pitched soul vocals which were accomplished by Morrison getting as close to the microphone as possible. This song is also the  to feature Gospel-style backing singers while the music is very reserved with acoustic, bass, and brushed drums.

“Caravan” is a pure celebration of radio portrayed through a moderate rock backing and very intense vocalization. After two verses comes the first of two improvised bridge sections that bring this song to a new level along with syncopated beats and punching brass. The side one closer “Into the Mystic” paints an indelible picture of life on the water where Morrison again returns to his youth in the port city of Belfast. The mood of this subtle folk tune is driven by a cool but direct bass line, strummed acoustic, and a building array of other instruments added ounthe duration, including a foghorn-mimicking alto saxophone for great effect.

We were born before the wind, also younger than the sun / Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic…”

The album’s second side contains some lesser known but quality songs. The Top 40 hit “Come Running” is upbeat, almost country in its approach, especially with the boogie-woogie piano by Labes, a two chord guitar pattern by John Platania and the first real affirmative presence by drummer Gary Mallaber. The track is not very complex lyrically but this is intentional as it works as an upbeat counter to some of the deeper songs from the first side. “These Dreams of You” portrays upbeat blues with bass rhythm, slide acoustic, and harmonica by Morrison. On “Brand New Day”, the tone is excellent even if the vocal melody seems a bit recycled. Nonetheless, this track is definitely a spiritual, Gospel influenced, song of redemption with rich backing harmonies.

Van MorrisonThe energy returns fully on “Everyone”, which starts with a cool harpsichord by Labes that persists through repetitive, beat driven pattern of this song of pure celebration. Colin Tilton provides flute flourishes throughout this Baroque-styled track which is an ode to the power of music. The album concludes with “Glad Tidings”, featuring the most pronounced bass line, exceptional drumming, subtle saxophones and squeezed out electric guitar notes all behind Morrison’s clarion vocals. While many songs on this album revisit the past, this one is set firmly in the present day of 1970 as Morrison sends “glad tidings” from his new home in New York.

Moondance was a critical and commercial success, peaking in the Top 40 in charts in both the US and the UK. It has continuously sold well during the four and a half decades since its release, eventually certified as triple platinum in sales. Later in 1970, Morrison released the follow-up album, His Band and the Street Choir, which feature “Domino”, the song which ultimately became Morrison’s biggest hit ever. Through the 1970s and into decades beyond, he released a succession of fine albums but none have reached quite the level of esteem as our album of the year, Moondance.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

1970 Page ad
 

Share and Enjoy !

0Shares
0 0

Astral Weeks by Van Morrison

Buy Astral Weeks

Astral Weeks by Van MorrisonAstral Weeks was the second solo album by Van Morrison, and in a lot of ways it was his own, direct counter-reaction to the debut album which was released in 1967 without Morrison’s consent and filled with weak studio outtakes. With a blending of folk, blues, jazz, and classical music, Astral Weeks was a complete departure from anything Morrison had done previously and the impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness nature of the music has received critical acclaim for four and a half decades and counting. Amazingly, most of the recording of the eight album songs was done in just two sessions and done among musicians who had never played together before.

Van Morrison got his start with the group Them, which had a handful singles in the mid 1960s. After an American tour in 1966, the band members became involved in a dispute with their manager over revenues, which ultimately led to the band’s break up. Convinced to record solo by producer Bert Berns, Morrison recorded eight songs in 1967, which were originally intended to be used as ‘A’ and ‘B’ sides of four singles. Instead, these songs were compiled and released as Morrison’s debut album Blowin’ Your Mind! without the singer even being consulted. Although the song “Brown Eyed Girl” did reach the Top 10 in the US, Morrison was dissatisfied with the album and sought out a new recording contract.

Morrison moved to Boston where he started to perform in an acoustic duo with double bassist and Berklee student Tom Kielbania. Soon, they began to develop the basic material for Astral Weeks. Producer Lewis Merenstein Went to see Morrison’s live act and was moved by his unique sound. Merenstein had a background in jazz, and decided to replace Kielbania with veteran bassist Richard Davis, who served as the session leader among the unfamiliar musicians. By all accounts, the sessions lacked basic formalities, with Morrison playing the songs on acoustic guitar and letting the session musicians play exactly what they felt.


Astral Weeks by Van Morrison
Released: November, 1968 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Lewis Merenstein
Recorded: Century Sound Studios, New York City, September-October 1968
Side One Side Two
Astral Weeks
Beside You
Sweet Thing
Cyprus Avenue
The Way Young Lovers Do
Madame George
Ballerina
Slim Slow Slider
Primary Musicians
Van Morrison – Acoustic Guitar, Lead Vocals
Jay Berliner – Guitars
Larry Fallon – Strings, Horns, Harpsichord
Richard Davis – Bass
Connie Kay – Drums

 

All eight songs were composed by Morrison and each original album side was subtitle, with side one called “In The Beginning”. The opening title song is one of the strongest on the album. A pure ballad of romanticism which gradually builds on its acoustic and double bass core, adding intensity throughout while not really changing chord structure and the long string-intensive fade out really drives home the central theme of “…to be born again in another time, in another place…” Morrison described it as “transforming energy, or going from one source to another with it being born again like a rebirth”.

The folksy, classical acoustic guitar of Jay Berliner begins “Beside You”, a truly improvised piece. A “spur of the moment” feel persists throughout, especially when it comes to Davis’ bass and, in fact, this song may be a little over the top for the average listener in its sheer roughness of composition. “Sweet Thing” is a lot closer to a traditional love song while still containing a bit of improvised vocals. Musically, it is held together by the glue of a semi-tight rhythm and the fine string accents of Larry Fallon coupled with the flute of John Payne. Lyrically, there positive and romantic lyrics in a natural setting;

And I will stroll the merry way and jump the hedges first
And I will drink the clear, clean water for to quench my thirst
And I shall watch the ferry-boats and they’ll get high
On a bluer ocean against tomorrow’s sky…

The first side ends with “Cyprus Avenue”, a great and romantically intense song with a core blues arrangement and topical Celtic/folk instrumentation. Fallon’s ever-present harpsichord and later fiddle makes the song a lot looser and more striking as it progresses. A long fade maintains (if not escalates) the intensity of this song, named after a wealthy street in Morrison’s hometown of Belfast.

Side two of Astral Weeks is subtitled “Afterwards” and begins with the most jazzy track on the album, “The Way Young Lovers Do”. With a just a splash of Mexican horns, this definite sixties swing song is a very rewarding listen in spite of being one of the shorter songs on the album. A great fiddle adds real flavor to the subdued acoustic tune, “Madame George”, which is otherwise driven by Morrison’s voice and never really leaves the exact chord progression over its nearly ten minute duration. Driven by vibraphone, “Ballerina” is still intense and romantic on its own, with nice sustained horn accents. The song is the only one composed while Morrison was still a member of Them in 1966. Unfortunately, the album seems to run out of steam by the time it reaches the closer “Slim Slow Slider”, which is little more than a showcase for the saxophone of John Payne.

Despite the fact that it failed to achieve significant sales success and reached gold status 33 years after its release, Astral Weeks remains a cult favorite. Morrison would soon achieve his commercial breakthrough with his third solo album, Moondance, released in early 1970.

~

1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

Share and Enjoy !

0Shares
0 0