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Beautiful Vision

Warner Bros. CD 3652
(Released February, 1982)

  1. Celtic Ray (4:10)
  2. Northern Muse (Solid Ground) (4:02)
  3. Dweller on the Threshold (4:46)
  4. Beautiful Vision (4:08)
  5. She Gives Me Religion (4:32)
  6. Cleaning Windows (4:41)
  7. Vanlose Stairway (4:10)
  8. Aryan Mist (3:56)
  9. Across the Bridge where Angels Dwell (4:28)
  10. Scandinavia (6:38) (instrumental)
    Total time: (46:03)

Musicians:
David Hayes: Bass
Mark Isham: Synthesizer/Trumpet
Rob Wasserman: Bass
John Allair: Keyboards
Herbie Armstrong: Guitar/Vocal
Pee Wee Ellis: Saxophone
Tom Donlinger: Percussion/Drums
Sean Fulsom: Pipe
Chris Hayes: Guitar
Mark Knopfler: Guitar
Pauline Lozana: Vocal
Gary Malaber: Percussion/Drums
Chris Michie: Guitar
Van Morrison: Guitar/Keyboards/Saxophone/Vocal
Bianca Thornton: Vocal

Review by Scott Thomas:
When we arrive at 1982's Beautiful Vision, the compositions are tauter than those on Common One, their simple chord structures and melodies borrowed from folk and blues as opposed to jazz or R&B. This is not, however, a straight folk or blues album. In fact the sound Morrison creates for Beautiful Vision, like that of Astral Weeks, has no real antecedent in Morrison's music (despite the fact that he retains most of the musicians from his last two albums) or anyone else's for that matter. As drummer Peter Van Hooke lays down a steady, almost mechanical pulse on his tom-toms and hi-hat, Chris Michie's otherworldly guitar brings to mind the electronically enhanced experiments of Robert Fripp and thus meshes perfectly with Mark Isham and his Enoesque synthesizer colorations. The understated horn arrangements, perhaps the most evocative since Moondance, work on an almost sub-conscious level, creating subtle background patterns that reveal themselves only through repeated listenings. Morrison himself is also deliberately subdued. Listeners in search of scatting, shouting, and screaming should not look here. Instead, Van plays off the female gospel trio whose earthy Sunday morning harmonies counterbalance Isham and Michie's more numinous colorings. Morrison creates emotional tension by holding notes and stretching the meter ever so slightly: rarely does he leave the established melody of a song. The resulting sound is gentle, meditative, but still highly affective.

The album also happens to be larded with great songs. The first piece, "Celtic Ray," adds Sean Fulsom's pipes to evoke the Ireland of Van's youth. The lyrics alternate childhood memories of the shouts of a street vendor with the collective voices of Celtic mothers calling their children home. "I've been away too long," the singer concludes as the song fades. The track that follows, "Northern Muse (Solid Ground)," is a paean to the creative impulses that compelled the singer, as a restless youth, to wander from his home "in the County Down."

The riveting "Dweller on the Threshold" comes next. While Morrison has sung of spiritual yearning before, here he seems to be positioned on the very brink of eternal peace. All he can do now is wait. The music's gentle but insistent beat parallels the lyrics' blend of fatalism and impatience, while Chris Michie's strange guitar tones and the exultant Judgment Day trumpets approximate the sounds we might hear in the vicinity of Heaven. With "Beautiful Vision" and "She Gives Me Religion," we have five great songs in a row.

"Cleaning Windows" is a titillating diversion from Beautiful Vision's prevalent mystical mode. The performance crackles with a warm spontaneity. The rhythms, propelled by guest guitarist Mark Knopfler, are buoyant, while the horns are brought to the fore in a conventional soul/R&B pose. The song recalls, with a healthy dose of humor, the earliest days of Morrison's working life when he would sneak away on his lunch hour to listen to Jimmie Rodgers and read Kerouac's On the Road. The engaging "Vanlose Stairway" returns us to the tempo, sound, and tone of the earlier songs.

The final track on Beautiful Vision is a surprise. Though Van's greatest gift has always been his voice, on "Scandinavia" he doesn't sing at all. Instead the wash of synthesizers that begin the song are pierced by invigoratingly high piano notes played by Van the Man himself. Morrison is no Bill Evans. Still, his playing is as vibrant as his singing elsewhere on the album, providing the listener with an aural postcard of his ancestral home.

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