Saint Dominic's Preview
Warner Bros. 2633-2
Review by Scott Thomas:
With their ebullience and obvious R&B influences, St. Dominic's Preview's "Jackie Wilson Said," "I Will Be There," and "Redwood Tree" would not have been out of place on His Band and the Street Choir. However, in all three of these songs, which are more carefully executed than anything on his previous two albums, Van seems to be reveling more in the creative process than he is in the love of wife and family.
Morrison's love affair with his Muse is also evident on the title track. Though anthemic in its construction and performance, "St. Dominic's Preview" does not, like most rock anthems, seek to create a sense of community with and among its listeners. Instead, Morrison has erected his own personal symbolic system that encompasses, among other things, orange crates, Safeway Supermarkets, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and Hank Williams. The redemption that is celebrated so vehemently in the choruses is a purely subjective one. "St. Dominic's Preview" makes one thing clear: Van was now making music for no one but himself.
Morrison's passion for upsetting the expectations of pop music audiences reaches it zenith in his first lengthy, improvised pieces since Astral Weeks, "Listen to the Lion" and "Almost Independence Day." "Listen to the Lion" evinces, like many subsequent Van Morrison songs of this ilk, a kind of ebb and flow. The quiet insistence that is conveyed by the singer at the beginning of the piece builds to an acoustic roar before receding back to an almost inaudible whisper. The fact that the song, despite its 11+ minute length, holds the listener's attention is a testament to the fine ensemble work perpetrated by Morrison, Ronnie Montrose (acoustic guitar), Mark Jordan (piano), Bill Church (bass), Connie Kay (drums), and Gary Mallabar (vibes). "Listen to the Lion" is a song about courage, about having the strength to leave home in search of a new and better world be it Caledonia (as with Morrison's Danish ancestors) or America (as with Morrison himself). This notion of the quest, implicit in Van's gypsy obsession (see "Caravan" and "Gypsy") and explicit in the Arthurian allusions of later albums, would become the central motif of 1974's Veedon Fleece.
"Almost Independence Day" begins with Van humming to notes plucked at random out of his 12-string. Eventually, he is joined by a second guitar, upright bass, drums, and a primitive Moog synthesizer. The song is powered by the tension between Morrison's deliberately erratic playing and singing, which at times defy the established rhythm of the song, and the unshakable accompanists. The lyrics have a vague, dreamlike quality in which the singer is haunted by fireworks hundreds of miles distant and in which images of domestic bliss from Tupelo Honey are reviewed through a lens of bleariness, ennui, and portentiousness.