on 21 August 2005
Even low-key Van Morrison records can make worthwhile purchases, which is why this short and slightly eclectic piece should really be considered as essential as the more epic works from the V.M. back catalogue. If you are at all familiar with Van's work during this period, roughly 1970-1973, then you should have a vague idea of what to expect from this album. However, although a number of tracks continue the sound of his other key releases from the time, particularly albums like Moondance, His Band and the Street Choir and Tupelo Honey, there are a couple of great, epic-ruminations, that point more towards his more mystical, interesting albums, with both Listen to the Lion and the closing track, Almost Independence Day, picking up where songs like Madame George and Ballerina left off.. whilst also pointing the way forward to the sound of future albums like Veedon Fleece and The Common One.
The album opens with the great rhythm and blues inflected Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven when You Smile), which has become a sort of standard on classic rock radio stations and easily ranks amongst the very best songs Morrison has ever composed (...and it was famously covered by Kevin Rowland and Dexys Midnight Runners on their Too-Rye-Ey album, which is just as essential as this). Next song Gypsy is a personal favourite, mixing elements of folk, jazz and psychedelic pop to great effect, with Morrison playing some great acoustic guitar to compliment the subtle shades of piano and the shimmering horns. The subject matter of the song is classic Van, bringing to mind Caravan from Moondance with it's romanticised image of dusky gypsy maidens and a life of undiluted joy. This was still Van's happy period, when he was married and living in up state New York (hanging out with Dylan and The Band)... later his work would become much darker and introspective, more akin to the classic sound of Astral Weeks and that legendary epic, T.B. Sheets.
I Will Be There is a nice little throw-away pop song, like some of the stuff on Tupelo Honey, which leads us nicely into the colossal genius of Listen to the Lion, a twelve minute stream of conscious ramble that never makes itself clear... instead, Morrison employs a number of subtle key changes and all manner of metaphorical imagery to keep us interested, not to mention that sterling voice, which is at something of an early peak here. The title track is more sublime genius (in fact, the last four songs are all impeccable), with a great sound and overall performance from Morrison and his band of session players, and a great, up-lifting refrain, which points towards Van's problems with his record label at the time (although the message is buried beneath layers of gorgeous symbolism)... whilst the great integration of the horns within the mire of piano, organ and guitars can also be found on the next track, the similarly effecting Redwood Trees.
My favourite track on the album is the loose and seemingly improvised epic, Almost Independence Day, which finds Van strumming repetitive, hypnotic chords on a 12 string guitar, underneath which we find some classical-style piano fills and an early use of the moog synthesiser. It's the song that points most towards the style of Astral Weeks... but whereas songs like Cyprus Avenue and Slim Slow Slider were dense, melancholic and claustrophobic, this seems to carry an enormous sense of hope, again relating to Van's issues over his career as well as his personal life; replete with a myriad of poetic imagery that brings to mind some of his literary heroes, like Beckett and Blake.
St. Dominic's Preview is, in my opinion, a great album, and is one to easily rank alongside the other Morrison albums of this era (...particularly the aforementioned His Band... and Tupelo Honey) and is a great record to progress onto if you already have his three masterworks, Astral Weeks, Moondance, and Veedon Fleece.
In January of 2008 the first 7 titles of Van Morrison's extensive remastered reissues began - followed by 8 more in late June 2008/early July. Here in the UK, these issues came with inlays that advertised the forthcoming titles for phase 3 and 4 - seven more releases would follow in September 2008 - with the last 8 in January 2009 (30 in total).
The 3rd phase (in which 1972's "Saint Dominic's Preview" was scheduled) was then delayed on some databases to November 2008 - but it now looks as if they won't arrive until February 2009 - next year.
This review is by way of notice to that affect - and a warning to prospective buyers - anyone advertising these remastered titles for sale at inflated prices BEFORE their release date should be avoided.
This sixth Van Morrison record is so glorious I want to weep.
The first time you heard Jackie Wilson Said, it sounded like nothing else on earth, then Gypsy begins and your life will never again be quite what it was.
Listen to the sheer tremulous power of the last note Van sings on I Will Be There:
"I...will...be...THERE - !"
No wonder he himself has said he`s not a rock singer. No, he`s closer to Ray Charles
or Otis or the Wolf, or one of those old blues shouters like Big Joe Turner or Jimmy Rushing. This is soulful, "spiritual" singing that takes no prisoners. It is what they sometimes call righteous.
Listen To The Lion is a rumbling, grumbling ruminative extemporisation on a theme, a sobering eleven-minute meditation, a rant, a kind of rap.
After so much relative solemnity you`re ready for the joyously uplifting title track, a perfect rendition of a song that tends to make the sun come out and the birds sing.
Redwood Tree is next, an almost folky song in Van`s nostalgic vein. Oddly, I can imagine Gordon Lightfoot singing it (though I may simply be thinking of the Canadian`s song Redwood Hill).
Almost Independence Day is the grand finale to this great album, another vocal and musical exploration in Van`s "this`ll take as long as it takes" manner. It`s a tremendous tour-de-force. The accompaniment on this track, as on the whole album, is flawless, spontaneous, and exactly "right".
Throughout this man`s now illustrious career he`s often come up with masterpieces. My picks for such an accolade would include Astral Weeks, Moondance, Tupelo Honey,
Veedon Fleece, Beautiful Vision, No Guru...and Saint Dominic`s Preview.
Van Morrison's 'St. Dominic's Preview' was for me a startling discovery. The seven songs that comprise the album are as varied as they possibly could be, ranging from the tight, punchy R&B opening track, 'Jackie Wilson Said', to the sprawling, semi-improvised 'Listen To The Lion' and 'Almost Independence Day'. The title track itself is a brilliantly produced and executed song, telling a personal tale of life and of being in the music industry, and revealing how Van Morrison himself always felt like an outsider in the business ('They were flying too high to see my point of view')..
'Jackie Wilson Said' stands out as the explosive opening to the album, bursting with energy and raw passion. Although, it's not representative of the rest of the album at all... it's almost as if Van Morrison says after each song, 'Right, I've done that genre, let's move on to something else.', which is great for the album as the result is a tapestry of different styles and emotions. 'Listen To The Lion' is another highlight. Sung straight from the heart, I bet that after capturing this performance on tape, the producers gave Morrison a standing ovation. Van Morrison pushes himself to the limit, and the result is a fantastically emotional, yet stunningly simple song that flys by, despite being over 11 minutes long. The improvisation is a far cry from that you may have come to expect from the likes of 'Astral Weeks', which in comparison sounds rawer and less well planned, albeit qualities in themselves, I prefer this song over anything on 'Astral Weeks', a compliment indeed.
'Redwood Tree' again is classic Van Morrison, that is more similar to something you may find on 'Moondance', with a typical lyric about the simple things in life. 'Almost Independence Day' is another sprawling track that doesn't hit quite as hard as 'Listen To The Lion', but is still excellent. 'Gyspy' and 'I WIll Be There' are again highly listenable songs, but find it hard to compete when set against the standard of the other tracks on this album.
Little did I think when I bought this CD that it would be up there with the likes of my favourite albums of all time, but SDP is easily as high quality an album as anything by Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Paul Simon, and is easily accessible to the uninitiated, whom after a few listens to this, will no longer be.
on 2 April 2013
Of the dozen + Van albums I own, even the lesser ones usually have a couple of "killer" tracks on them. When he is firing on all cylinders then he's up there with the greatest artists. On St. Dominic's Preview he is on top form. This is a cracker of an album that would be worth the cost just for the epic Listen to the lion. Not quite sure what the great man is on about here but the mood he creates is something else. His voice isn't something to use just to reproduce something as basic as lyrics but as another instrument - including lion growling - better than it sounds! It is a unique song which refuses to date - to my ears at least. Van's best albums defy time (and sometimes logic) - they just are!
Other reviewers have rightly pointed to the joyous, infectious opener Jackie Wilson Said - great way to start this album. Others have singled out the epic, ethereal Almost Independence Day - another Morrison mood epic. You could pick the impressive title track, great music and more direct lyrics "they were trying to hard to see my point of view!"
I would rate this higher than his other classics - Veedon Fleece, Common One and Hymns to the silence and on par with Astral Weeks. But this particular album represents a unique artist at the top of his game. Just a pity that an artist of this importance doesn't have all his albums readily available - the price of this album is very expensive - even if the purchaser will get their money's worth with repeated plays. And this album is worth repeated plays!
on 25 June 2008
This is not going to be an objective review, but rather a paean of praise to one utter masterpiece. I agree with most reviewers that there are three, or possibly four, stand-out tracks - the long ones and "Jacjie Wilson Said". I personally have always admired "Almost Independence Day" at a respectful distance, except on some isolated occasions, when it has "got" to me. But I have always adored the magnificent title cut and its winderful balance of celebration and auffering. But... I want to talk about "Listen to the Lion". Strangely, I can understand those who dismiss it as meandering, too long, even padded out with filler. Others will know how ineffably wrong this is, however. It is precisely the right length (at least when one has heard it two or three times in a row), and its subtle shifts of rhythm and harmony, gradually building and then gently dissipating tension (sublimated through the lion's roar) and sweet yet painful dying fall create an incredible drama. Morrison's voice is under perfect control, from the achingly gentle opening "... my love come tumblin' down" through the breakdown of words into sounds, culminating in those roars of the terrible yet vulnerable beast inside. And the accompaniment is the perfect complement, subtly shifting throughout as it reflects the shifting meanings and faces of the lion. Such simplicity combined with such complex interplay. This song has lost none of its power to move me to tears - of joy, sadness, I know not what - in the thirty years since I first came to know it. Perhaps only "Tangled up in Blue" could compete in the longevity stakes for me. So have patience and buy these record - three songs at the very least are each worth many times its price.
Apologies for plunge into idolatry - normal service will be resumed forthwith.
on 11 October 2007
Sensational creative album that reaches for the moon itself. Its creative ambition harks right back to Astral Weeks, (in reality not even 5 yrs had passed, but he had covered alot of musical ground) but this is a more mature, more songwriterly effort that signals a completely new, super confident, super independent phase that will take him wherever he wants to go, whenever he feels like it.
A.W. will probably always be seen as his masterpiece, but I really think this is it. It is far more mature a work, while being just as artistic, and shows an amazing range of musical influences and awareness. And it's his first album where he's stopped worrying about the homogoneity of the piece. Every album up to then had very much had its own theme of sound and tone, that went from first track to last track. Not this one, as the very free reign he gives to his muse means he puts in a couple that completely break the pattern.
The star tracks are the footers of each side, as it was in the vinyl days. No review can do true justice to them, so just hear them, preferably with the lights off, as they are tracks to lose yourself in. You could claim they are indulgent, but then music itself is a great indulgence, it's there for our pleasure, and these two fulfil that remit completely.
Of the remaining tracks, Gypsy recaptures the romance of Moondance, and would be a star track itself on most other albums, even the great Moondance, it is that good. Redwood Tree is more middling but very nice, seeming like a mix of Moodance and Tupelo Honey in sound. Jackie Wilson Said speaks for its brilliant self but there's one more real gem, the often overlooked title track. Van demonstrates how far he's come as a lyricist here, always good, but now unquestionably capable of being brilliant. And unlike in some of his later albums, even starting with Veedon Fleece, the lyrics don't swamp the melody but ride seamlessly with it.
This is also one of his best album covers, by the way, and lets you know of the acoustic guitar sound you'll hear in some of the songs (which is bloomin superb). Note the happy and homely look seen on the last two album covers has now completely gone. Van looks anything but 'country' here, and has on some rather arty 'troubadour' style clothes. He sits on the steps of an urban church holding the tools of his trade, and looks skyward, as though in union with his muse: You cannot have a clearer signal that this is a man now ready once again to share with us his latest communion with the divine spirits.
on 6 October 2000
"Astral Weeks" is frequently listed as one of the finest albums of all time, but this album is much more listenable. This album has everything - from the feelgood tracks such as "Jackie Wilson Said" and "St Dominic's Preview" through sublime meandering adventures such as "Listen to the Lion" and "Almost Independence Day" to the sheer poetic and musical brilliance of "Gypsy" and "Redwood Tree".
This is a showcase album, as if Van's proclaiming to be the greatest songwriter of all time, and on this evidence you can't really argue.
In all honesty VM is not my favourite artist (I'm more into David Bowie, Lou Reed and Neil Young), but I would be hard pressed to name an album from any of them which surpasses "St Dominic's Preview".
If you've never been tempted to buy a Van Morrison album before, please do not hesitate to buy this - so many reviews on these web pages exclaim "you must have this in your collection", but very few releases can sincerely justify this. This album is one of the few.
on 2 July 2015
I have now bought this album 4 times. Once on the day of its original release, then a few years later when I had worn the vinyl out. As a CD when first issued in that format and then recently having lost my original CD. In my opinion it it is Van's "best" album (with Moondance a close second) and arguably, in my mind, the greatest album ever made. Now it's hard to define "best" or "greatest" as they mean different things to different people in different contexts. It's not as influential or as original as Astral Weeks or as Etherial as Veedon Fleece or as hummable as Moondance. Similarly You could say the same when compared to other great albums by other artists - too many to name. But I have one criterion that defines this as the greatest album of all time for me and that is....
If about to be banished alone to a desert island for the rest of your life and you are told that you could select just one album to take with you and listen to for the rest of your time.... My hand would hover over Highway 61 and Blonde on Blonde and Abbey Road but then swiftly move across and settle on this one and I would happily clutch it to my busom.
I never tire of it.
on 4 March 2012
It must be almost ten years ago since I picked up the newspaper that printed a piece about an overlooked classic by the great Van Morrison.... Having heard Astral Weeks, Moondance, Philosopher's Stone, a greatest hits and a whole bunch of other tunes I read on to discover a tune named 'Listen to the Lion', a tune which the author wrote how, after hearing it for the first time, was numb and couldn't prise himself off of his bed, because of the sheer awesomeness of this song, to get up and turn the record over!....I had to hear the album just to hear that track! He wasn't telling lies that's for sure. Saint Dominics Preview is quite possibly the most musically diverse and awesome album you may ever hear. I must admit that I was a little unsure about how the album would sound having 'Jackie Wilson Said' as the opening track but I gave it a shot. All tracks on here are superb, only 'Jackie...' deserves to be left on the Greatest Hits Album' as it just doesn't sit right with the rest of the songs...I always start with track two! I recently sold a lot of discs on Ebay, having a somewhat awesome collection, I made a few bob...this disc fetched a few quid as I was unaware of it's rarity.... Why so rare when so beautiful? I still have a copy of it and listen regularly so no great shakes.... I urge any Van fan to purchase this album...but for a decent price, don't get ripped off.