Beautiful Vision from 1982 is one of Van`s most varied albums, a spiritually forceful song like She Gives Me Religion and the remarkable Vanlose Stairway bookending the nostalgic, hilarious riot of Cleaning Windows, a funky look back at yer man`s window-cleaning days in Belfast c.1960. The latter contains, as do many of his songs which talk of his younger days, references to TV programes, books etc that were around then. Hence:
"What`s my line? I`m happy cleaning windows"
Those as old as me (I`m five years younger than Van) will recognise the crafty inclusion of the name of a famous TV panel game that we all watched back then. Later:
"I heard Leadbelly and Blind Lemon
on the street where I was born...
I went home and read my Christmas Humphreys book on Zen
...Kerouac`s Dharma Bums and On The Road"
That could almost be me!
One of the most glorious tracks is the opener, Celtic Ray (also to be found in a more uptempo version on his record with The Chieftains, Irish Heartbeat). It`s a percussive, richly textured song that reeks of the "Celtic Twilight". You`d be close to heaven if it was playing as you crossed the Killarney lakes to the Black Valley...
The next four songs all have a similarly lush feel, the title track a standout,
with eloquent guitar courtesy of Mark Knopfler. (At least I think so; the listings on the inner sleeve are a mite confusing as to who exactly plays on which tracks. I want to praise the wonderfully incisive drumming on most of these songs - which I think is supplied by Gary Mallaber, but I`m not entirely sure.)
Vanlose Stairway is remarkable, an intense, oblique song with a clenched, growly vocal by Van with a gospelly female choral backing.
Another great song is Across The Bridge Where Angels Dwell. Few artists can get away with such lyrics, but such is VM`s obvious sincerity, his questing spirit, that he manages it. Actually, some of the words - not to mention the irresistible melody - are rather lovely, particularly on the refrain:
"Close your eyes, in fields of wonder
Close your eyes and dream"
The final track is a suitably cool, meditative instrumental called Scandinavia. You can`t help expecting Norwegian sax player Jan Garbarek to break in at some point. Van leads the number on piano, and a good fist he makes of it too.
After so much vocal, lyrical and musical opulence, it`s a perfect way to end this impeccable set. I`d say it`s one of Van`s best, but there are so many of them.
Visionary? In its way, certainly. Beautiful? Oh, yes.