Genius, Innovation, that "Thing..." oh, and Live Recording...
Early in this new century, All About Jazz
published my list of the ten best live rock recordings
with a second installment addressing "the best of the rest."
Ten years of praise and ridicule have led me to accept how naive I was to believe that I could reduce such a list to so few recordings (even in the compressed period of 1969 to 1979). Certainly a worthy addition to this august list would be Van Morrison's 1974 live recording ...It's Too Late to Stop Now...
(Warner Bros). Gladly, this recording is enjoying a remastering and re-issue in an expanded format composed of Volume IThe original release as a remastered 2CD set and Volumes II, III, IV as 3CDs and a DVD largely of unreleased performances from which the original release was assembled. What an embarrassment of riches. It was about time.
Van Morrison exists in the company of Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, and Prince (had he lived longer): a rarified group of artists and performers who readily ignored musical genre, played and wrote what they wanted as they wanted, and when they performed others' songs, made them sound as if they had composed the music first. These guys had "that thing," that undefinable synthesis of genius and talent that spawns innovation greater than the sum of all the influences, experiences, and lessons learned by them. Morrison weaves a Celtic magic through the blues, country, R&B, and soul he sublets from America, creating his own singular sound that exists as almost stream of consciousness generation of lyrics to a harmonic architecture coded into human DNA. Morrison channels James Joyce every time he opens his mouth. We will not have him forever, so, let's celebrate him now as he was at his peak.
Van Morrison...It's Too Late to Stop Now, Volume I
Originally released in February 1974, Van Morrison's first live recording, ...It's Too Late to Stop Now...
was something of a perfect torso. Preceding its release, Morrison had released seven albums, including Astral Weeks
(Warner Bros, 1968), Moondance
(Warner Bros, 1970), from which he derives most of his original material for this live recording, and Tupelo Honey
(Warner Bros, 1971). The performances are pristine, even for a live recording. But as notable as ...It's Too Late to Stop Now...
was for hit punctilious attention to detail were the glaring exclusions: No "Brown-Eyed Girl," no "Moonshine Whiskey," no "Moondance" for God's sake! This is because of the creative grasp Morrison had on the material when he programmed the original two-LP set. Assembled from eight set of music performed at three venues (The Troubadour, LA; The Santa Monica Civic Center, and the Rainbow, London), Morrison tried less, as was standard for the period, to create an image faithful to the original performances, opting for including the best performed, most sonically superior selections. We see why some of his most famous songs failed to make the cut.
That said, Morrison ensured that a certain stylistic integrity exist in the collection, one that expressed his keen, alchemic ability to infuse his covers of American blues and country music with the same Celtic wonder heard in "Into the Mystic" and "Warm Love." Muddy Water's "I Just Want to Make Love to You," Ray Charles' "I Believe to My Soul," and Sam Cooke's "Bring it On Home" all take on that emerald misty-dew quality Morrison is so famous for. Morrison extends what the Rolling Stones did with American music when they released Exile on Main St
(Rolling Stones) two years earlier. Morrison tends a simple harmonic garden (as the Stones did), one that is well established and understood in our marrow. What he brings to it is the magic
. I have heard very little bad Van Morrison music...but this is the best he has to offer and it is offered in an electric live atmosphere of benediction.
Van Morrison...It's Too Late to Stop Now, Volume II -IV
This is Van Morrison's (or better yet, Sony Legacy's) gift to the listener. A respectable record of the concert sets from Morrison's May, 23, 1973 Troubadour, June 29, 1973 Santa Monica Civic Center, and July 23-24, 1973 Rainbow Theater appearances from which The original 2-LP ...It's Too Late to Stop Now...
was derived. Here is where you will hear "Brown-Eyed Girl," "Moonshine Whiskey," and "Moondance," (all represented on a DVD recording of Morrison's Rainbow shows) as well as, a rollicking take on Hank Williams' "Hey Good Lookin,'" and ethereal "Snow in San Anselmo," and a gospel-infused "Hard Nose the Highway." Morrison's band, the Caledonia Soul Orchestra sported horns and strings with his crack rhythm section, lead by keyboardist Jaff Lobe and guitarist John Plantania, whose wah-wha-ed slide guitar captured perfectly the experimentation of the period.
Van Morrison remains a bit of an enigma. He has grown into a bit of a curmudgeon on his most recent recordings, but noting this is no criticism. Like Ray Charles and Willie Nelson, Morrison has earned the right to do as he damn well pleases. Musically, he remains as solid and progressive today as 50 years ago when he was just appearing. With Van Morrison, we should not split critical hairs (or in the parlance of the United Kingdom, bugger flies). Rather, we should be grateful we have documents like this to remind us of what was...and is.