Van Morrison Album Reviews

Van Morrison began his career as the vocalist for the garage band Them, scoring hits with ‘Gloria’ and ‘Here Comes The Night’. After Them disbanded, his career stalled with a stint on Bang records, where artistic frustration caused him to produce his infamous contractual obligation sessions, featuring tossed off songs like ‘Ring Worm’. His proper solo career began with 1968’s singular Astral Weeks, a unique statement which combined stream-of-consciousness lyrics with a fluid and spontaneous musical framework provided by the accompanying jazz musicians. Van Morrison streamlined his sound for the 1970 hit Moondance, combining his backgrounds in folk and R&B into an accessible package. He stretched out artistically with 1972’s excellent St Dominic’s Preview and 1974’s atmospheric Veedon Fleece. Veedon Fleece was followed by a three year silence, which marked the end of the first phase of his career.

While his subsequent solo work is arguably less consistent than his 1968-74 albums, Van Morrison’s post-1977 career has plenty of highlights and is worth exploring. While he generally moved towards a slicker and less organic sound, he remained an interesting figure, veering from commercially oriented efforts like 1979’s excellent Into The Music to 1980’s esoteric Common One – his continued creativity is arguably linked to his continued wrestling with his faith throughout the 1980s. Since the early 1990s, his solo career has arguably been only for die-hard fans, but he enjoyed a long fertile period – Rod Stewart turned 1989’s love song to God, ‘Have I Told You Lately’ into something on a modern standard.

Van Morrison’s most distinct feature is his voice – an expressive instrument which synthesises his Irish roots with the R&B and jazz that he grew up hearing in Belfast. Even though his vocal prowess diminished after the mid-1970s, his voice remains distinctive. His exploration of Celtic Soul has effectively fuelled his entire career, as he veered between commercial pop and more uncompromising efforts. Even if his solo career can sometimes feel obstinate and inconsistent, his body of work is uniquely his own, and he should be remembered as a giant of his era; U2 are perhaps his only competition as Ireland’s greatest musical export.

Ten Favourite Van Morrison Songs

Tupelo Honey
Saint Dominic’s Preview
Madame George
Astral Weeks
And It Stoned Me
Into The Mystic
You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push The River
It’s All In The Game
Full Force Gale
Snow In San Anselmo