Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
For No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986), the now 40-year-old was feeling nostalgic for his younger years on the first song, “Got To Go Back.” Lyrically it’s pleasant, but the muted production doesn’t do the song any favors. He references Rimbaud (not Rambo) again on “Foreign Window,” and we discover that the album title comes from the lyrics to “In The Garden,” a quiet & poetic track with one brief crescendo toward the end. “Tir Na Nog” finds him possibly looking to the past again (the title apparently means “land of youth” in Irish Mythology). This song has a great string arrangement from Jef Labes. I enjoyed the cynicism in his lyrics to “Thanks For The Information.” None of these are major additions to his catalog, but they continue the pleasant nature of his ‘80s work.
There’s an overall light-jazz sound on Poetic Champions Compose (1987), beginning with instrumental opener “Spanish Steps.” There’s a nice string part and a saxophone melody played by Van. My favorite track on the album is “I Forgot That Love Existed,” its piano and bass-led intro immediately catching my ear. Slick production and instrumentation once again suck any power and grit from the old slavery-era spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child.” However, Van & the band wake up a little on two other favorites, “Alan Watts Blues” and “Did Ye Get Healed?”
Seemingly out of nowhere, Van recorded an album with legendary Irish group The Chieftains. Irish Heartbeat (1988) was…and remains…like nothing else in his catalog. And it’s a special record. He had often included Celtic melodies in his music, but this is the first time he fully embraced this style. I don’t consider myself an expert on Celtic music, but I am a fan of artists like The Bothy Band, Silly Wizard, Christy Moore, Solas, Lúnasa, Planxty and numerous others. When this type of music is played well, it can be as exciting and electric as anything else, even though it’s performed on traditional acoustic instruments (like Uilleann pipes, bodhran, fiddle, guitar and tin whistle).
Both “Irish Heartbeat” and “Celtic Ray” are re-worked versions of previously recorded Van Morrison originals. The remaining songs are traditionals arranged by Van and Chieftains leader Paddy Moloney. There’s not a weak song here, and I would highly recommend it to anyone (except those who don’t like this style of music, of course). I wonder how loyal Van Morrison fans felt about this album when it was released, as it sticks out like a pint of Guinness in a room full of brandy drinkers.
Van closed out the ‘80s with Avalon Sunset (1989), an album that shares production values with many of his ‘80s recordings, but added enough new elements to stand out from the pack. It’s a good album with some great songs, and feels like a preview of the stronger albums to follow in the early ‘90s. One of the new sounds included here is the Hammond organ, played by Georgie Fame. It adds an authentic swing-blues vibe to “I’d Love To Write Another Song,” and brings to mind Garth Hudson (of The Band) on “When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God.”
The worldwide hit “Have I Told You Lately” is the centerpiece of the album. Its inclusion in a million wedding celebrations doesn’t diminish the beauty of the words or melody. Different but equally as striking is “Coney Island,” as Van narrates this brief tune in a heavy Irish brogue. Overall, this album gives me the feeling that Van is waking from a long slumber, sounding invigorated, and ready to take on the next decade.
I recall thoroughly enjoying the next two albums in his catalog, Enlightenment and Hymns To The Silence, but I probably haven’t listened to either one in at least 10 years. I’m eagerly anticipating getting reacquainted with them in the coming days. I’ll talk about that in my next post, along with a few subsequent albums.
Rich- I’ll say it again. I love this idea and great write-ups.
So if I were to get one Van Morrison album that I don’t already have what should it be?
A ‘Them’ compilation, Astral Weeks, Moondance, His Band and the Street Choir, Tupelo Honey, Into the Music, Common One and a handful of tracks including Brown-Eyed Girl, Wavelength & Jackie Wilson Said.
My guess is either “Dominic’s Preview” or “It’s Too Late to Stop Now” but you make the call sir!
Hi Brian. Thanks again for saying such nice things about the blog. You already have a great collection of Van’s albums, but of the ones I’ve revisited again these past few weeks I would recommend Saint Dominic’s Preview, A Period Of Transition or Irish Heartbeat (if you like trad. Irish music, of course). The live album from ’74 is great, but I always think it’s best to hear the studio albums first. I happen to be listening to his live album from 1994 (A Night In San Francisco) today and I had forgotten how great it is. I’ll include that in my ’90s post sometime next week.
Now that your Best-Of-The-80s posts are done, what are you planning on tackling next at your blog?
Have a great weekend.
Van Morrison and The Chieftans sound good in the playbook, him being of Irish heritage and they being the standard bearers of trad Irish music, who have collaborated with a wide range of others – you might want to check out Bob’s “Redemption Song” with Ziggy Marley.
I am with you on the acoustic electricity of Irish music and all of the bands you mentioned, especially Planxty, who are the true innovative High Kings in my book. I have always wanted to like the Chieftains, and they are accomplished musicians, who collaborate with and are respected by the other bands, but I have always found their style to be stiff and ponderous and sadly to say, forgettable. This holds true with their work with Van Morrison and I find that when Van Morrison sings these tunes, his voice and tonalities are very ordinary, as opposed to people like Andy Irvine, Chrisy Moore and Paul Brady who, ironically, are very soulful in this genre.
Anyway, Lunasa is a band (sorry, I couldn’t get the fancy accent on the u) I have not heard of, so thanks for mentioning them. I just listened to a few tracks and I think that they have a new fan.
I was initially saddened to find out that Van Morrison’s “Coney Island” was of County Down in Northern Island and not that of the Cyclone and Wonder Wheel fame. Not so much after listening to it again, after many years, and listening to Liam Neeson’s cover of it, as I’m not much for the spoken word.
I thought the same as you when I first heard of Rimbaud, and later found out that he was a very avant-garde and influential poet/writer. Sadly to say, not from reading his works, but by watching the movie of his life that starred Leonardo DiCaprio.
Hi Alan. I agree with you that The Chieftains are not in the same league as the other artists I mentioned, but I think they’re excellent collaborators. Perhaps if I listened to Irish Heartbeat after a Planxty or Solas album I wouldn’t have had the same reverence for it. I do, however, feel that it stands on its own as an excellent collection of mostly traditional Irish songs. As for Van’s voice & tonality being ordinary, I don’t hear it that way. I enjoyed that he stretched out from his comfort zone, and if his voice doesn’t have the inflections of the singers you mentioned (all excellent), he acquits himself well on this album.
Glad you enjoyed Lúnasa (fancy accent or not). I have four of their albums & they’re consistently good, possibly on par with Solas.
I was also surprised & disappointed to find out that “Coney Island” was not about Brooklyn, as I spent my first three years there. Still, an excellent song. Do you not like Van’s spoken word songs, or spoken-word in general. I have that Van Morrison tribute CD with Liam Neeson. I’ll have to listen to it again soon.
thanks Rich- just saw your reply. You sound a lot like me (re: live albums). I normally only get them if they are 1) great 2) iconic 3) have mostly previously unreleased songs. Live albums as a whole just don’t normally interest me as much. I do think I need to pick up “St. Dominic’s Preview” at the very least. It’s a hole…
Loved your post about the trad Irish stuff. Wish they’d bring back the Fleadh Festival>
re: my blog. I do 5 recommended new albums once per month and I am constantly doing music mixes by the year- they are listed on my blog under the ‘Mixes by Year’ section. I’ve done the following so far – 1950-54, 1960, 1965, 1969, 1973, 1974, 1977, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1991, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2006, 2009- next up are ’71 followed by ’82. I basically recommend my 20 favorite albums of the year (no greatest hits comps allowed) and do a write up on the year and then post all of my mixes- I have 8 for each year except some of the earlier years (ran out of material). All kinds of crazy rules re: the mixes that I won’t get into right now.
The next big project will be top 100 albums of the 70’s but those take me about 6 months to write.
Greetings! Very useful advice within this post! It is the little changes that make
the most important changes. Many thanks for sharing!
Thanks for stopping by, Larae. I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment regarding “little changes,” which certainly applies to this portion of Van’s catalog.
Pingback: Tom’s Top 5′s: Albums of 1986 | Revolutions Per Minute
Pingback: Thirty Year Thursday – …AND THE REST (PART 3) / IN CONCLUSION | KamerTunesBlog