Van Morrison: Another Wondrous Decade: Under Review 1977-1987

Doug Collette By

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Van Morrison
Another Wondrous Decade: Under Review 1977-1987
Chrome Dreams

Early on in Another Wondrous Decade, an exploration of Van Morrison's post-hiatus career in the late Seventies and Eighties, recording engineer Gary Ladinsky makes an ever so astute point about The Belfast Cowboy's approach to recordings: ..."he's particular but he's not picky.." This distinction may seem nothing more than semantics, but it is, instead, representative of the erudite insight in the famous Irish-born musician's approach that's echoed by other interviewees including Nigel Williamson of Uncut Magazine, Keith Altham the artist's former publicist and famed British music journalist Chris Welch.

As much fans as scholars, these individuals' observations and analysis render moot a generic packaging bordering on budget style that adorns the DVD and, like similarly edifying titles devoted to Bob Dylan, Lowell George and the Allman Brothers among others, Under Review 1977-1987 is a comprehensive and unsentimental look at the work and life of one of the most influential artists of his time. Further distinguishing the content are inclusions of conversations with the man himself: rare in that by all these accounts, he cultivated a somewhat off-putting persona that, at its best, was begrudgingly self-promotional, he's both self-effacing and self-revelatory in such a segment as the one in which he discusses mysticism in his work.

With the inclusion of a bonus feature titled "Van Morrison and the Music Press," it may be arguable there's too much is made of this particular theme here, but then again, with so much commentary referencing poor reviews in line with chart success or lack there of, it is an ongoing aspect of fair and balanced coverage of his career, particularly as Morrison becomes more independent with the passage of time. The regular and frequent inclusion of live performance footage, abbreviated as it is, imposes a circular logic to this (re-)evaluation of his work that's implicit in most of the recorded dialogue, but stated outright by Rolling Stone's Anthony DeCurtis in his most cogent contribution to the dialogue here.

The back cover of Another Glorious Decade carries the clearly outlined banner disclaiming any authorization of the documentary by Van Morrison's or his representatives, but this very lack of sanction allows perusal of all the factors personal and political that have figured into the man's creativity. The DVD's producers and participants don't just broach in passing subjects such as spirituality, personal demons and his Irish background , they delve into them in such a way they reveal a continuity in Van the Man's oeuvre that isn't all that evident when they first traverse the panoply of styles covered in the work released prior to the timeline covered here beginning, for all intents and purposes, with his collaboration with Dr. John, A Period of Transition (Warner Bros., 1977).

From the singular stream of consciousness that is Astral Weeks (Warner Bros., 1968) through the rustic domesticity of Tupelo Honey (Warner Bros., 1971), the stark haunting simplicity of Veedon Fleece (Warner Bros., 1974) marked a change in direction that proved anything but consistent, stylistic and commercial vagaries that only added to the iconoclastic and enigmatic persona of Van Morrison as he and his work matured to encompass realms of influence including poets Wordsworth and Coleridge as well as the gospel icon Mahalia Jackson.

In the context of this retrospective, there's no revisionism as such, contradictions and all, but rather a rediscovery of the virtues in play on such initially under-appreciated works like Common One (Warner Bros., 1980) and, indeed, the full extent of this man's work with all its relative highs and lows..
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