Van Morrison first hit the pop charts with the group Them and their hit song, “Gloria.”After the group broke up in 1967, Morrison penned his biggest single success, “Brown-eyed Girl.” A year later with a complete change of gears, he signed with Warner Brothers records and got into the studio with a band made of up some top-notch contemporary jazz and blues musicians. The result was his first major album, Astral Weeks. Beginning with the title track, there are seven more (listed below) that sound as far from either of his previous hit tunes as could possibly be imagined. The title song opens with the lines, “If I ventured in the slipstream, between the viaducts of your dream/ Where immobile steel rims crack, and the ditch in the back roads stop, ” with its refrain, “To be born again,” and you realize that Van Morrison has now entered an entirely new musical realm.
- Astral Weeks
- Beside You
- Sweet Thing
- Cyprus Avenue
- The Way Young Lovers Do
- Madame George
- Slim Slow Slider
The songs are mostly introspective, frequently moody and densely constructed with lyrics that were a cut above the usual lighthearted and mindless pop music fare of the 1960s. While there are autobiographical references in some of the numbers like “Cyprus Avenue” and “Slim Slow Slider”, much of the time, Morrison is dealing with more abstract imagery dealing with love, heaven and earth. Astral Weeks is now available, 45 years after its debut, as a Rhino/Warner Brothers reissue as either a 96kHz/24bit or 192kHz/24bit (the version in this review) download on www.HDtracks.com.
Being mindful that the original recording dates from the early days of stereophonic pop albums, we get a mix that place some of the instruments distinctly in either right or left speakers with the Morrison voice and guitar pretty much dead center. The acoustic setting of the lead vocal/guitar tracks appears to differ noticeably from that of the accompanying musicians, the former being dryer and having a trace of echo that the other instruments lacked. The bass is a bit reticent as well. Over the course of the album, I got accustomed to this sonic presentation, but it is less dimensional than most of the Van Morrison records that followed on the Warner label.
Cover art, no liner notes.
The Definitive Word
Astral Weeks was a breakthrough record for the 22 year-old Morrison and opened the door to this singer/songwriter’s many subsequent successful releases. Rolling Stone magazine has recognized this album as one of the top 500 recordings of all time. Given the provenance of the original master, and its vinyl incarnation was never demonstration quality, I doubt that it would sound any better than this current high-resolution rendering. The unique way that Van Morrison had with words and music exerted substantial influence on many artists that followed, including Elvis Costello and the late, lamented Amy Winehouse. With sound that is clearly dated, but never less than acceptable, Astral Weeks was one of the most significant albums of its or any other time and demands to be heard by all lovers of the folk/rock genre.
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