Astral Weeks is widely regarded as one of the greatest records ever made; its creator Van Morrison's singular oeuvre has continued ever since to be a mystifying (and mystical) fusion of Celtic folk, classical, soul, rhythm and blues, and jazz. The pleasure derived from listening to Van Morrison is often guilty one but you'll find his Best Of tucked away somewhere in many a collection. While he has released seemingly innumerable compilations this is the first time that he has released a comprehensive Greatest Hits.
This 37-track double album covers his five-decade career. Kicking off the sixties period in fine style is the vital rock 'n' roll rebel yell "Gloria", laid down by young Van and his first band, Them. Yes it's over-familiar, but then it's been covered by a Who's Who of Rock, from The Doors to Jimi Hendrix. From the same decade, "Here Comes The Night" features that jaunty warbling typical of the sixties but turned bittersweet by the addition of some throaty howling and a theme of rejection.
Then on into the sunnier seventies! "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)" is the Van Morrison song that most people know and secretly love. Soulful and uplifting, it's awash with lyrical hooks powered by his increasingly mellifluous voice, and backed with pumping horns and rhythm section. It also showcases his signature utterances and vocalisations, the do-de-de-doos and dang-a-lang-a-langs, which are pure homage to his soul and doo-wop influences. Check out his Louis Armstrong growling on the honky tonking "Bright Side Of The Road" and just try not to enjoy it.
Through the nineties and noughties he has increasingly forgone the energy of his younger days to produce transcendent instant classics which skate along a precipice of sentimentality and steer well clear of modernity. "Have I told you Lately" is timeless piece of soul which you'd not place as from 1989. By "Days Like This" his voice is like oak.
Van is still hard at it, doing two gigs a week and giving some of the best performances around. Perhaps he should consider doing a Prince and give all those closet fans a chance to file out to Greenwich alongside the diehards and pack out the 02 for a few nights. --James Young
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