Warner Bros. CD 3103
Review by Scott Thomas:
Finally, there's Van himself. His performances on Astral Weeks, driven by the need to prove his talents as a singer (as if they needed proving), were constantly pushing at the strictures of meter, language, and vocal range. On Moondance he is a self-assured professional who, instead of dazzling his listeners with vocal pyrotechnics, is content with merely seducing them.
Instrumentally, the album's signature is the airtight harmonies created by Jack Schroer's alto and Collin Tillton's tenor saxes. Those who find these hauntingly melodic sax parts vaguely familiar will be hard pressed to find antecedents in R&B and soul: their true source lies in the whistles and pipes of traditional Celtic music. The guitar parts, both Morrison's rhythm strokes and John Platania's improvised leads, are, but for a few exceptions, performed on acoustic instruments, while the rhythm section recreates the deft but soulful touch of Roger Hawkins and Tommy Cogsbill on those great Aretha Franklin records. The final ingredient is a subtle jazz influence brought by Jeff Labes' fluid piano playing.
The opening cut, "And It Stoned Me," is a more compact and disciplined version of earlier stream of consciousness efforts like "Cypress Avenue" and "The Back Room" and brilliantly demonstrates Morrison's penchant for locating mystical enlightenment in even the most mundane occurrences. "Moondance," the second track, features one of Van's most scintillating melodies sitting high atop an urbane swing beat. Next up are "Crazy Love," an acoustic ballad delivered in an enchanting falsetto, and the show-stopper "Caravan." Taken together, these last two songs reveal the daunting scope of Morrison's songwriting and performing abilities. While "Crazy Love" is gentle and beautifully melodic, "Caravan" is a sweaty R&B work-out that, in the great tradition of James Brown, tantalizes its audience with a long-delayed and much-anticipated climax. As if this weren't enough, the first half of the album concludes with the transcendent "Into the Mystic." Here stanzas of yearning and wanderlust ascend toward choruses that communicate, with tremendous power, a kind of fevered mysticism. It is one of the single greatest recordings in all of popular music. Amazingly, the tracks that follow "Into the Mystic" are almost as good! We have a great slice of rhythm and blues ("Come Running"), the bluesy wit of "These Dreams of You," the gospel-tinged optimism of "Brand New Day," and, finally, "Glad Tidings," Morrison's delightfully eccentric take on Motown.