VAN MORRISON-THE ALTERNATIVE MOONDANCE-RECORD STORE DAY 2018 RELEASE.

Van Morrison-The Alternative Moondance-Record Store Day 2018 Release.

Label: Warner Bros Records.

Many critics and record buyers believe that it’s sacrilege to change a classic album in any way, and held their hands up in horror when it was announced that Giles Martin was remixing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Steven Wilson must have smiled when he heard this reaction, as he had received the same response when he started remixing parts of the Jethro Tull back-catalogue. The reason for this is that many critics and music fans claim to be “purists,” who “want to hear albums as the band intended.” 

These purists even eschew newly remastered versions version of classic albums, and seem suspicious of new technology. Even if the new technology can transform the sound quality of albums that were recorded half a century ago on what’s now regarded as basic equipment. Sadly, these traditionalists aren’t even willing to listen to the newly remixed albums and are missing out on the chance to hear much-loved classic albums in a new way. 

If that is the case, they’re never going to embrace and enjoy The Alternative Moondance which was released for Record Store Day 2018 on 180 gram vinyl. It features alternate takes of the songs on Moondance, and shows a new side to Van Morrison’s second classic album.

When Van Morrison began work on his third album Moondance, he had no idea that it would be a career defining Magnus Opus that he would never better. However, he had just released his first classic album Astral Weeks in February 1968, which was a groundbreaking release and a game-changer for Van Morrison. 

Astral Weeks.

Having released his 1967 debut album Blowin’ Your Mind, Van Morrison returned in February 1968 with his sophomore album Astral Weeks. It was initially described by some critics as a concept album, but Astral Weeks was more like a song cycle full of symbolism, and was akin to a stream of consciousness that was an exploration of earthy love and heaven. The music was impressionistic, mesmeric and moderne as Van Morrison seamlessly fused jazz, blues, poetry and classical music upon this future classic album. 

Although Astral Weeks was released to critical acclaim, the album stalled at fifty-five in Britain and failed to trouble the charts upon its release February 1968. However, much later, Van Morrison’s groundbreaking album Astral Weeks was certified gold in America, and its author was hailed as a part-poet, part-musical visionary. By then, Van Morrison had released his career-defining classic Moondance.

Moondance.

It took Van Morrison the best part of two years to write and record Moondance, which was his first ever album of Caledonian soul. It had taken Van Morrison ten months to write the lyrics to Moondance at his  mountaintop home, not far from Woodstock village, in upstate New York. This had been home to Van Morrison and his wife for some time, and he had quickly discovered that it was the perfect place to write his future classic album, Moondance.

Inspired by his surroundings, family and memories, Van Morrison set about writing the lyrics to Moondance that were poetic, evocative, mystical and rich in imagery. Just like an artist used his palette to create pictures, twenty-four year old Van Morrison’s lyrics painted pictures that takes the listener on a series of journeys. Two examples were And It Stoned Me where Van Morrison takes the listener back to the Belfast of his youth, while Caravan conjures up images of living life as a gypsy. These songs and the rest of Moondance were recorded at A&R Studios, in New York.

For the recording of Moondance, Van Morrison recruited his band from musicians based in Woodstock, and they headed along to A&R Studios, in New York. When they got there, they were in for a surprise when they discovered that Van Morrison hadn’t written the music to Moondance. He explained to his band that the music and the arrangements existed in his head. While this could’ve presented a high stumbling block to lesser musicians, somehow, Van Morrison was able to explain to his band what he was hearing in his head as the sessions began in August 1969. 

Joining Van Morrison for the Moondance sessions was a rhythm section of drummer, percussionist and vibes player Gary Mallaber, bassist John Kingberg and guitarist John Platania. They were augmented by Jef Labes who played clavinet, organ and piano while Guy Masson played congas. Horns came courtesy of Jack Schroer on alto and soprano saxophone, while Colin Tilton played tenor saxophone and flute. Adding harmonies were The Sweet Inspirations, Doris Troy, Cissy Houston and Jackie Verdell. Van Morrison played acoustic and rhythm guitar, harmonica, tambourine and added the all important vocals on Moondance, which marked his debut as producer. By the time Moondance was completed in September 1969, Van Morrison was on the verge of making history. 

When critics and cultural commentators heard Moondance, they hailed it an instant classic, and for once there were no dissenting voices. Moondance was perceived as a coming of age for Van Morrison, who had set the bar high with Astral Weeks, but surpassed it with his much-anticipated followup. Critics called Moondance an ambitious, sprawling, genre-melting epic album where Van Morrison fused elements of blues, country, jazz, rock and soul with were combined with his Celtic roots. The result was a cerebral, challenging and thought-provoking Magnus Opus which showcased the poetic of Van Morrison at the peak of his powers. However, the big question was would Moondance find favour with record buyers?

When Moondance was release, in February 1970, Moondance reached number twenty-nine in the US Billboard 200 and was certified triple-platinum. Across the Atlantic in Britain, Moondance stalled at just thirty-two in the album charts. Already, Van Morrison was more successful in his adopted home country.

Come Running was released as the lead single, but reached just number thirty-nine in the US Billboard 100. Then when Crazy Love was released as a  single, it failed to chart. Maybe the problem was, that the singles released from Moondance didn’t work in isolation and were part of something much bigger, which nowadays is regarded as a classic album,…Moondance.

Forty-eight years after the original release Moondance, it was decided that Warner Bros Records would release The Alternative Moondance for Record Store Day 2018. This meant listening to all of all the takes of the ten tracks that were recorded during August and September 1969. In some cases, there in excess of twenty takes of tracks on Moondance and choosing which version to include on The Alternative Moondance wasn’t easy. Eventually, the ten alternate tracks were chosen and became The Alternative Moondance

Side One.

Opening Moondance is the Alternate Mix of And It Stoned Me, which is a song about an experience Van Morrison had as a child. He was on his way fishing, when he asked an old man for a glass of water. Van Morrison was given some water that the old man got from a stream, and when he drank it, he remembers time standing still and heading into another dimension. With its mystical, almost surreal lyrics, Van Morrison paints potent pictures. There’s references to rural Ireland, where there’s county fairs and mountain streams and there’s even references veteran jazzer Jelly Roll Morton. It’s as if when Van’s delivering the lyrics, he’s transported back in time. He’s right there, the scene unfolding before him. Behind him, a jazz-tinged piano, rasping horns and the rhythm section provide the perfect backdrop to this outpouring of surreal memories. Later, Van Morrison adds an acoustic guitar that is the perfect foil for the piano which sets the scene for his impassioned vocal, on this stunning fusion of blues, Celtic soul, country and jazz.

Very few songs are as recognisable as Moondance, however Take 22 that has been used for The Alternative Moondance. There’s still the familiar jaunty arrangement, that skips and swings along. It’s driven along by an electric bass, the jazz-tinged arrangement that is played by a band that use mostly acoustic instruments. A guitar, flute, piano, saxophone and drums combine to create a small jazz band. Over-dubbing the flute was a masterstroke, and transforms the tracks. So does the piano solo, before the blazing saxophone panned left takes centre-stage. Together, the band ensures the song swings, as Van Morrison unleashes a vocal masterclass, where he feeds off the band, as he delivers the lyrics about autumn. Suddenly, Van Morrison the poet is painting pictures as evocative, images of Woodstock village where Van wrote Moondance come to mind. Later, as Van Morrison scats and the song reaches its dramatic crescendo.

Crazy Love (Alternate Mix) shows another side of Van Morrison and is an understated ballad, where Van Morrison’s tender, heartfelt and needy vocal is joined by The Sweet Inspirations. They’re the perfect foil to Van Morrison and their tender harmonies soar high above the arrangement. Meanwhile, the band play thoughtfully, taking care not to overpower Van Morrison’s vocal, and the result is an ethereal and beautiful paean, which shows his romantic side.

Flourishes of piano open Caravan (Take 4), which is a song about gypsy life. Straight away, Van unleashes a vocal powerhouse, and Soon, he’s delivering lyrics which are full of imagery. So much so, you can imagine life on the open road, no worries, just days stretching in front of you. There’s a romanticism in the lyrics, which seems idealistic. There’s a melancholy, romantic sound to the song as the band provide the backdrop for the vocal. One minute Van Morrison’s vocal is wistful, the next minute it’s a scat, as he trills. Later, the guitar and Van’s vocal feed off each other and they’re crucial to the song’s success. Meanwhile, the arrangement veers between understated to dramatic as dramatic, blazing join with the piano to add a jazz-tinged sound to this evocative, Joycean track.

Just an acoustic guitar, then meandering, thoughtful bass open Into The Mystic (Take 14). As Van Morrison’s vocal emerges, it’s pensive and thoughtful, while there’s a mysterious sound, as gradually, the understated arrangement unfolds. It’s as if the band are deferring to Van Morrison’s vocal as piano, bass and acoustic guitars and growling, jazzy horns play an important part in the song. Again, imagery and romanticism are omnipresent as Van Morrison describes the sea, and the foghorn blowing as he makes his way home. Just on cue, a saxophone replicates the foghorn, before his vocal grows in power and passion, as he unleashes another of his trademark vocal powerhouses. Along with his band, the lyrics come to life as Van Morrison paints pictures on another of Moondance’s highlights.

Side Two.

Come Running (Take 2) has a country influence that is apparent from the opening bars. Just the rhythm section, driven along by the bass, and the piano join forces and accompany Van Morrison as he sets the scene with lyrics rich in imagery. So much so, that it’s possible to imagine the train running down the track in the wind in rain carrying Van Morrison’s lover. He’s so sure of that he delivers the line: “you’ll  Come Running to me.” There’s a certainty and confidence that almost borders on arrogance, as Van Morrison delivers a feisty vocal and singles of their turbulent relationship that he brings to life during this fusion of blues, country, jazz and rock.

These Dreams Of You (Alternate Mix) is driven along by a bluesy harmonica and the rhythm section, while chiming guitars accompany Van Morrison’s grizzled, heartbroken vocal. There’s a reason for this heartache as he dreamt his idol Ray Charles had been assassinated. Soon the song becomes a mini soap opera as growling horns and Hammond organ are dropped in and ensure the song swings as Van Morrison lays bare his soul and dreams for all to hear.

Brand New Day (Take 3) has a melancholy sound as piano and country guitars combine, while Van Morrison’s vocal is slow and full of hope, hope for the future. He wrote the song when he was having problems spiritually, and what follows is a cathartic outpouring of doubt. Cleansed of this doubt, it’s as if he’s been spiritually reborn as his life begins again. His masterstroke on Brand New Day was having The Sweet Inspirations add gospel-tinged harmonies, which are dramatic and spiritual, and the perfect accompaniment to Van Morrison during this song about his spiritual awakening.

Replacing Everyone on The Alternative Moondance is I Shall Sing (Take 7). Many fans of Van Morrison’s music will see this as a controversial omission as the track is part of this classic album. Having said that, Everyone was always regarded as very different from the rest of Moondance and it could be argued that the uptempo and celebratory I Shall Sing which features Van Morrison and his band in full flight may be a better fit. Personally, I would’ve preferred to see alternate take of Everyone which would’ve made the album The Alternative Moondance.

Closing  The Alternative Moondance is the Alternate Version of Glad Tidings. Inspiration from the song came from a letter Van Morrison received that said: “Glad Tidings” from London. With its R&B and soul influence, it’s as if Van Morrison’s been inspired by labels like Fame and Stax as a joyous, celebratory sounding track unfolds. Later, Van Morrison’s vocal becomes a scat and vamp, as horns blaze, growl and rasp, punctuating the arrangement while the rhythm section provide the heartbeat and a Hammond organ adds its atmospheric sound. Meanwhile, Van Morrison seems determined to close Moondance on a high and encourages his band, he vamps his way through this joyful, celebratory track which is a fitting way to end what’s a alternative version of a classic album.

For fans of Van Morrison’s music The Alternative Moondance is an album that shows another side to his second classic album. It’s an interesting take on what was a groundbreaking, career-defining album that Van Morrison would never surpass. Meanwhile, The Alternative Moondance is best described as a companion to Moondance and certainly isn’t meant as a replacement for this classic album.

The Alternative Moondance is just the latest reissue of Van Morrison’s classic album, and these tracks have been released before on a five CD deluxe edition of Moondance. However, nobody has tried to program The Alternative Moondance until Record Store Day 2018 when Warner Bros Records released as a limited edition of 10,000. 

Just like similar types of albums, where alternative versions of classic albums are released, The Alternative Moondance is sure to provoke debate amongst Van Morrison’s fans. Some will enjoy hearing this different version of Moondance, while purists will dismiss it out of hand as a gimmick. Others will regard The Alternative Moondance as a controversial album given the omission of Everyone. That was a brave call and one that may well result in criticism from those who would rather have heard the alternative version of Moondance featuring the same songs as the original album. Despite that, The Alternative Moondance is an interesting concept and is a new way to discover Van Morrison’s finest album.

Following up Astral Weeks was never going to be easy for Van Morrison, despite the fact that he had only released two albums. However, just his sophomore album Astral Weeks, Moondance was a classic album that showcased one of the most talented singer-songwriters of his generation.

Van Morrison’s lyrics are on Moondance are poetic, evocative, mystical and are full of imagery, Pictures unfold before the listener’s eyes as he takes them on a series of journeys. Some of these songs were inspired by everyday life, while other introduce the listener to a cast of characters and variety of scenarios. Other tracks feature lyrics that are almost mystical and surreal, while  Crazy Love and Come Running find Van Morrison singing about love, and love gone wrong. Brand New Day is powerful and poignant track about Van Morrison’s spiritual awakening. However, the best known song on Moondance is the classic title-track, Moondance, which since 1970, has been a staple of radio stations everywhere. It’s one of the best known songs Van Morrison wrote, while Moondance is perceived as Van Morrison’s finest album.

Incredibly, Van Morrison began writing Moondance when he was twenty-three, and completed the album and the tracks that feature on The Alternative Moondance before he was twenty-five. Forty-eight years and thirty-six albums later and Van Morrison has yet to surpass his career-defining classic Moondance, which belongs in every record collection. Many Van Morrison fans will also be keen to add The Alternative Moondance to their collection and compare and contrast the two albums.

While The Alternative Moondance is a welcome release and is one of the best ‘alternative’ albums that has been released over the last couple of years, the original version of Moondance was Van Morrison’s Magnus Opus, and is the definitive version of this classic album.

Van Morrison-The Alternative Moondance-Record Store Day 2018 Release.

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