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Van Morrison: The Healing Game (Deluxe Edition)

Doug Collette By

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As enigmatic as Van Morrison is, the archiving of his vault reveals some logic with the reissue of The Healing Game in expanded form. Following on the heels of It's Too Late to Stop Now... Volumes II, III, IV (Legacy Recordings, 2016) and The Authorized Bang Collection (Legacy Recordings, 2017), this three-CD package of one of his better latter-day albums reaffirms an underlying theme of those previously-released titles—Morrison's predilection for spontaneity.

The Healing Game is one of most complete personal and musical statements in Van Morrison's lengthy discography. At the time of its release in 1997, it also marked an important transition: after a period of crafting romantic ballads, exploring spiritual concerns and issuing live albums that found mainstream success, Morrison felt once more compelled to revisit the jazz and rhythm and blues-inspired style that influenced his earliest work. To achieve this, he assembled a killer new band that included saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis and keyboardist/vocalist Georgie Fame.

The latter musician finds prominence on piano and organ respectively within often knotty arrangements like "Rough God Goes riding" and the more temperate "Fire In The Belly." Meanwhile, Ellis, an important component in the 1960s' sound of James Brown, sounds as fluent in stepping up to solo as he is in horn arrangements not all that dissimilar from the charts that adorn Morrison's vintage1970s' work.

A dozen of the 34 previously unreleased recordings in this package, all of which sound as clean as the main album itself, include alternate takes of only some material on the record as originally released. More such rarities spill over from the first of the three discs, all of which are mostly comprised of high-spirited duets with role models of Van Morrison's. Carl Perkins appears on his own "Matchbox" and "Boppin' The Blues" among others, including one the pair co-wrote, "My Angel."

Morrison's mentor John Lee Hooker only shows up for two tracks, but his collaboration on "Don't Look Back" is especially notable. Skiffle master Lonnie Donegan also pops up on the second (and faster) version of "Muleskinner Blues," like most of its surroundings, seemingly designed as a means for Morrison to get his creative juices flowing more than anything else.

Evidence of the Irish soulman's faith in his own history as a means to an end, these less-than-nostalgic pairings are, in their own way, as revelatory as the concluding three-part segue of "See Me Through/Thank You (Falettime Be Mice Elf Agin)/Burning Ground." Given the immediate engagement on part of artist and audience—clapping along early and often—it's easy to see why this concert became a heavily bootlegged item over the years. Morrison is in fine form as frontman, his loose but polished singing and generous, sympathetic band-leading far removed firm the irascible behavior that's plagued his tours over the years on occasion.

A liner essay begs the question of its authorship. Regardless, it is in keeping with Van Morrison's preference to let the music itself speak for him. The Healing Game (Deluxe Edition) accomplishes exactly that which the best of its archival kind achieves—the illumination of the fundamental virtues of the source material and a memorable extension thereof.

Track Listing: CD 1: Rough God Goes Riding; Fire in the Belly; This Weight; Waiting Game; Piper at the Gates of Dawn; Burning Ground; It Once Was My Life; Sometimes We Cry; If You Love Me; The Healing Game; Look What the Good People Done; At the End of the Day; The Healing Game; Full Force Gale '96; St. Dominic's Preview. CDisc 2: The Healing Game; Fire in the Belly; Didn't He Ramble; The Healing Game; Sometimes We Cry; Mule Skinner Blues; A Kiss to Build a Dream On ; Don't Look Back; The Healing Game; Boppin' the Blues; Matchbox; Sittin' on Top of the World; . My Angel; All By Myself; Mule Skinner Blues. CDisc 3: Rough God Goes Riding; Foreign Window; Tore Down A La Rimbaud; Vanlose Stairway/Trans-Euro Train; Fool For You; Sometimes We Cry; It Once Was My Life; I'm Not Feeling It Anymore; This Weight; Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me); Fire in the Belly; Tupelo Honey/Why Must I Always Explain; The Healing Game; See Me Through/Soldier of Fortune/Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)/Burning Ground.

Personnel: Van Morrison: vocals, harmonica; Ronnie Johnson: electric guitar; Stephen Cooney: gut-string guitar; Robin Aspland: piano; Georgie Fame: Hammond B3 organ, backing vocals; Phil Coulter: piano; Pat Crowley: keyboards Paddy Maloney: Uillean Pipes, whistle; Brendan Power: harmonica; Peter O'Hanlon: dobro; Donal Lunny: bouzouki; Nodlaig Ni Chathasaigh: fiddle; Alan Dankworth: double bass; Nickey Scott: electric bass; Ralph Salmins: percussion; Geoff Dunn: percussion, drums; Noel Bridgman: drums, backing vocals; Leo Green: tenor sax, horn arrangements; Pee Wee Ellis: baritone sax, horn arrangements; Guy Barker: trumpet; Matt Holland: trumpet, horn arrangements; Haji Akbar: flugelhorn; Richie Buckley: saxophone; Keith Donald: saxophone; Brian Kennedy: back vocals; Katie Kissoon: backing vocals; Mary Black backing vocals.

Title: The Healing Game (Deluxe Edition) | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Legacy Recordings

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