I have noted previously that my new music purchases fall into three types, one of which is Filling in the Corners — catching up on favorite artists for whom I don’t have a complete collection.
That’s what I was up to last week, the artist being Van Morrison. For me, they don’t come much more favorite-ish than Sir George Ivan; only the Beatles and Steely Dan rival Van the Man in terms of total albums in my iTunes music list.
That said, I haven’t kept up with Morrison as much as my love for his music should engender. Within five years of his breakthrough with “Brown Eyed Girl,” I had bought his first half-dozen or so LPs, but then got out of the habit of buying albums in general.
A couple decades later, when the compact disk revolution arrived, I found myself in the position of having to replace vinyl that had been played to death — particularly the case with Van’s “Astral Weeks” and “Moondance” — with CDs. I did add several later works by the Irish troubadour, but the prolific Morrison has kept releasing albums, and I’ve kept falling further behind.
Made up some of that ground last week, downloading two LPs’ worth. But half of that was just replacement — one of them was “Saint Dominic’s Preview,” which is counted amongst the Albums that Were Lost. There are a number of those no longer in my collection, for whatever reasons: loaned out and not returned, intermingled with former roommates’ records, whatever. (Those were somewhat offset by other peoples’ albums that ended up in my collection — 33 and a third rpm karma, kind of.)
The other online purchase was “Period of Transition,” a 1977 album that fit in neatly in my collection — the first release after the string of studio LPs that I already owned, other than 1987’s “Poetic Champions Compose.” (That of course doesn’t include “Too Late to Stop Now,” his 1974 live double-disk that will be discussed momentarily.)
I considered holding off on getting “St. Dominic’s,” in hopes that it might turn up at some point. And one cut from it (“Jackie Wilson Said”) is on “The Best of Van Morrison” compilation CD I purchased in the 1990s; two others, songs too long be on a greatest hits album, are on “Too Late,” so I had almost half the LP covered.
The title cut from “St. Dominic’s” is done pretty much straight up on the live LP (which is considered by many to be one of the best concert albums ever recorded), and “Listen to the Lion” benefits more from the live treatment. But on the latter can be heard one of those extremely annoying fans that you would not want sitting next to you at a concert.
Another long, involved cut, “Almost Independence Day,” is only on the studio album, which also includes the nicely nostalgic-but-undistinguished “Redwood Tree” and a couple other decent tunes.
So it was good to hear that music again. “A Period of Transition,” though, included a lot of songs that never gained FM airplay, or otherwise had fallen in the gaps of my Van the Man attention span. So how did that work out?
Haven’t done a lot of repeat listening to the album, but most of the cuts are going to get on the Van the Man playlist. “Where Flamingos Fly,” in particular, has this funky hook that could become one of my Morrison faves; it is one of the shorter cuts on an LP that features more extended songs — all but two are four and a half minutes or longer.
One of the longer cuts is “The Eternal Kansas City,” which revisits an approach Morrison had used four years earlier, on the opening cut of “Hard Nose the Highway.” Like “Snow in San Anselmo,” the cut from “A Period” opens with an ethereal female chorus; the earlier song cuts to the chase much sooner, but the more recent track eventually gets bluesier/jazzier.
Dr. John, who co-produced the album (and also played keyboards and some guitar), felt that “The Eternal Kansas City” was the focal point of the disk. I think that Mac Rebennack — the Dr.’s real name — is a musical genius, and definitely adds something to any project, but I might ask for a second opinion on that diagnosis.
“You Gotta Make It Through the World” is a good tune, but the lyric is weaker than most of Morrison’s songwriting. The rest of the LP is solid, more jazz and R&B-influenced than some of Van’s earlier recordings — which would be truer to Morrison’s early musical influences, growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland — and I think will grow on me.
Anyway, I will be listening to my “new” Van Morrison albums more in the coming weeks. And looking forward to further Filling in the Corners in my treasure trove of this remarkable artist.