on 11 November 2008
For me, this is maybe his best album, although it's quite hard to quantify the guy's output as he has been so prolific over what must be a 45 year career, and his material has veered from r'n'b to jazz, and on to traditional, country and several points in between.
Although recorded in America, a lot of the tracks seem very influenced by Ireland, and I believe he moved back to live there around this time. As with many of his albums, the lyrics are open to interpretation. I've read various tomes dealing with this, and I've always ended up more confused than when I started. My advice would be to shut the books, let this album float over you, and the lyrics will mean whatever they mean - to you.
Pastoral - Celtic - and in the case of "You Don't Pull No Punches, But You Don't Push The River", incomprehensible, have been some of the descriptions applied to this album. I must confess that for years I'd lift the stylus when it came around to "You Don't Pull No Punches", as I did indeed find it unfathomable. But then one day the stylus stayed down, and lo and behold, it all made absolute sense. Beautifully arranged, heart stopping string section, and Van at the top of his game "Contemplating Baba" and "Looking for the Veedon Fleece"" - it's now one of my favourite pieces of music, ever. Transcendental I believe is the word. A work of genius!
Many of the other tracks are more immediately accessible, certainly musically. "Fair Play" I would guess harks back to his younger days in Ireland, and then "Linden Arden" and "Who Was That Masked Man" meld into one another with those strange lyrics again, concerning violent murder. And then comes "Streets of Arklow" which is a much more straightforward, slow air about Arklow, obviously! After which you have "You Don't Pull No Punches",which I've already mentioned. "Bulbs" is a more up tempo track, and was released as the single without really troubling the charts. "Cul De Sac" is a slower song with superb acoustic piano, and a great vocal complete with a mini Van trademark scat performance. A highlight!
The album draws to a close with three very-much Irish tinged tunes, "Comfort You", "Come Here My Love", and "Country Fair", all of which are beautiful.
Sorry to end on a sour note, but sadly, after actually seeing him in concert on countless occasions over the last 25 plus years, some of which were truly great, I decided after a series of very disappointing gigs that the one at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, London last year, finally, was punishment enough. It was really grim, zero contact with the audience (not unusual). Very half-hearted performance, seeming to just be going through the motions before he made his exit at 9.30pm without so much as a thank you or good night to the punters who'd paid upwards of £45.00 for the privilege. At several points the band were in danger of being drowned out by the level of bored chatter from the audience. All very sad. To me he seems to be stuck in a big rut these last few years. He doesn't seem inspired, and inspiration has been at the heart of so much of his best music. Anyway there seem to be enough people out there who are still happy to enable him to sell out wherever he plays, so what do I know?
But I still have most of the albums, and I believe this one, although never a big success commercially, and followed by a period of inaction, represents him at a real artistic peak in his career.
on 19 June 2004
This is one of my favourite albums of all time, and one that is matched only by the magic and intoxication of Astral Weeks as far as Van's career goes. Veedon Fleece is one of those records that was seen as a flop at the time, but now seems better than anything else, with Morrison returning to the themes and ideas established on that aforementioned classic, and reflecting on an agonising divorce and a recent trip back home, to Belfast. We can only imagine the impact that the lushness of the landscape and the poetry of his countrymen must have had on the man at this difficult point in his life... with his writing both romantic and melancholic, enlivened with images of pastoral elegance and an honesty that was lacking from previous endeavours such as Moondance, His Band and the Street Choir and Tupelo Honey.
This is an album to languish in, and for me, can only be evaluated alongside other faves like Revolver, Don't Stand Me Down, Blood on the Tracks, Promenade and Forever Breathes the Lonely Word... music that transcends the boundaries of modern-pop. The sound is rich and hypnotic, with the tracks perfectly sequenced to give us a sense of cohesion, with the listener able to sit back and lose themselves in Morrison's tales of love, lost and found. Opening track, Fair Play, finds Van listlessly moaning like a wounded dog over a bed of acoustic guitars, the lyrics filled with poetry, grace and images of stark evocation... "fair play to you / Killarney's lakes are so blue / and the architecture I'm taking in with my mind / is-s so fine" managing to surmise the singer's emotional mindset, as well as setting up a mood and pace that will continue throughout the record.
The whole thing is just intense and relaxing and heartbreaking and elating... a mass of contradiction really; all we know for sure is that Van's voice drips like tupelo honey, as the instrumentation veers off in directions that suggest soul, folk and jazz simultaneously. The classic Van Morrison sound then! From this, the whole record could be seen as a continuation of the tracks from St Dominick's Preview - stuff like Listen to the Lion, Almost Independence Day and the title track - with Morrison and his ensemble of musicians improvising melodies over made up lyrics that try to capture an emotional moment of clarity. Throughout the record Morrison can be found howling wildly, his voice shifting from the deep bass-baritone of something like Linden Arden Stole the Highlights (with that classic line "and he loved the little children, like they were his very own") to the blistering falsetto of next track, Who Was that Masked Man, which leads off from the previous track perfectly, with that bleak opening line, "oh ain't it lonely... when you're living with a gun".
The album's centre piece is the (near) ten-minute epic You Don't Pull No Punches - But You Don't Push the River, a real Madame George moment, in which guitars, strings, flutes and horns all make an appearance, as the whole thing just goes beyond the limitations of popular music into the realms of the fantastique. Throughout the track Van can be found baring his soul. He means these words... he ruminates and pontificates, and often strays from the course of what he intends to say, but we can forgive this... because he's lost in his own emotions. And in today's musical climate, that is a rare feet indeed.
From hereon-in, the whole thing just sails by on the crest of a wave, with Van fusing ambient folk-infused instrumentation with free-from lyrics and breaking our hearts with every subsequent track. The entire album is just a joy to listen to from beginning to end, making it hard (and morally, quite wrong) to choose favourites, though it goes without saying that Cul-de-Sac offers a rare moment of up-tempo soul (bringing to mind earlier VM tracks like You're My Woman and The Way Young Lovers Do)... whilst closing track Country Fair has some beautiful guitar work and lyrics that swirl around our heads, lingering for days on end. As noted previously, Veedon Fleece remains one of *the* lost-classics of the 70's (along with Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue, which has similarities in style), and is a record that really should be revaluated. If anything, this has become the 'real' Astral Weeks of Van's career, what with the latter now featuring in one in ten student's collections... so this is where to come if you want to discover the real cult of Van Morrison.
To quote that other lyrical Irish rebel, Shane MacGowan; "ten seconds into a Van Morrison record you know exactly what you're gonn'a get... he don't f*ck around". And it's true. From those very first picks of Ralph Walsh's guitar, we're hooked... hypnotised even, by the lushness and elegance of these amazing compositions. It's a mood you either buy into or you don't... simple as that. But this is just too good to give up on. Veedon Fleece represents a master singer, songwriter and musician at the height of his game, crafting a beautiful and transporting piece of work that offers the listener an undiluted moment of true, heart-wrenching purity (no wonder Kevin Rowland loves it!!). This is the aural equivalent of strolling through a summer's meadow, by a babbling brook, under a pastel rainbow... to put it simply, you need this.
on 8 May 2002
I first heard this album 20 years ago and it remains one of my all time top 10 (I think on a par with Astral Weeks and Moondance). The songs were written by Van on his first trip back to Ireland in 1973 since leaving there in 1966, and reflect his re-connection with his celtic heritage. The tracks, expect for Bulbs - which is a fabulous upbeat country rock number - are quite understated and all the better for it. There is plenty of 'Irishness' in the instrumentation without it being an 'Irish' album..and the melodies exquisitly haunting, but its the words that really stick...each song telling a wonderful story. My favourites are Linden Arden, Streets of Arklow, Bulbs, Comfort You and Country Fair...but everything on this album is superb. It's not a record to dance to but its certainly one to do everything else to.
on 20 September 2005
If you enjoyed Astral Weeks and/or are searching for a new celtic/bluesy/folk Van Morrison album, then look no further. Veedon Fleece is as intense and sensitive as any music he has made (Van was at a particularly low point of his life at this time), painfully raw and so so beautiful - a truly personal and honest record. If you need more info to convince you then read Adrian Pennington's excellent review situated on this very same page.
However if you are searching for more pub-friendly 'Bright side of the road'/'Brown eyed girl' sing-a-longs then maybe this isn't that album, but buy it anyway and discover a different (and probably better) side to his music...
"Veedon Fleece" is part of the 2nd wave of Van Morrison remastered reissues to hit the shops in 2008 (see full list below). Released Monday 30 June 2008 in the UK and 1 July 2008 in the USA, it boasts an upgraded booklet, a 96k/24 bit remaster and 2 bonus tracks for the first time.
Here's the layout (56:36 minutes):
Tracks 1 to 10 make the album originally released in October 1974 on Warner Brothers
Tracks 11 and 12 are Alternate Takes of "Twilight Zone" and "Cul De Sac" and both are previously unreleased exclusive bonus tracks
The band consisted of:
RALPH WALSH and JOHN TROPEA on Guitars
JEFF LABES and JAMES TRUMBO on Keyboards
JACK SCHROER on Soprano Sax
JIM RITHERMEL on Flute and Recorder
NATHAN RUBIN and TERRY ADAMS on Strings
DAVID HAYES and JOE MACHO on Bass
DAHOUD SHAAR and ALLEN SWARTZBURG on Drums and Percussion
Labes, Shaar, Schroer, Hayes and Nathan Rubin were all part of "The Caledonia Soul Orchestra" who toured with Van and produced the dynamite "It's Too Late To Stop Now" live double released in March of 1974. Tight and complimentary to his style, they knew what Van wanted when he went in to record "Veedon Fleece". The album is a slight return to the style of "Astral Weeks" song-writing - not verse/chorus - but more soulful meandering workouts heavy on the mystical lyrics and falsetto vocals. This style is particularly evident on the fabulous "You Don't Pull No Punches, But You Don't Push The River" which ended Side 1 of the album - an 8-minute strummer that gets its hooks into you and doesn't leave. The chipper "Bulbs" was issued as 7" single on both sides of the pond ("Cul De Sac" its B-side in the US, "Who Was That Masked Man?" in the UK).
Originally released on vinyl as a single sleeve album with a green insert for the session details, that same bland green is used on the booklet and inlay beneath the see-through tray - hardly original, nor exciting. There's no new interview, no photos, no singles pictured, no history of the record and its place in his catalogue - zip. The lyrics to "Twilight Zone" are reproduced though. Wow! Push the boat out boys!!
Also, the liner notes don't mention WHERE or WHEN the tapes were 96k/24 bit remastered. Still, the sound is hugely improved over the initial CD releases, but a real downside for me is the sloppiness with which this has been remastered - there's very audible hiss on almost all of the tracks - and the hiss is at exactly the same level all the time - you can't help but feel that this was simply run through a machine without anyone trying to tweak or make better each individual track - like say you get on a HIP-O SELECT CD or a MOBILE FIDELITY disc. Effort put in - in other words.
The two bonus tracks are a mixed bag. As you've probably noticed, "Twilight Zone" wasn't on the original LP; it first appeared as an outtake from the "Veedon Fleece" sessions on the 2CD 1996 set "The Philosopher's Stone". The version on PS runs to 8:24 minutes and is presented on that set in superb sound quality; this take is shorter at 5:51 minutes and different - unfortunately it's also a lot more hissy and not as good as the PS version. "Cul De Sac" fares far better - it's very good - and more than an interesting curio. I'll be playing it again.
Overall, "Veedon Fleece" is a lovely album and a bit of a lost gem in his catalogue - and this remastered re-issue is recommended despite the slightly disappointing sound quality.
30 Van Morrison albums are re-issued in remastered form throughout 2008 and into early 2009. Each title contains an upgraded booklet; previously unreleased bonus tracks and all will be at mid-price. The releases are in 4 batches as follows:
28 January 2008 (7 titles)
Tupelo Honey (1971), It's Too Late To Stop Now (2 CD Live Set) (1974),
Wavelenght (1979), Into The Music (1979), A Sense Of Wonder (1985),
Avalon Sunset (1989) and Back On Top (1999)
(see SEPARATE REVIEWS for all 7)
30 June 2008 UK/1 & 8 July 2008 USA (8 titles)
Veedon Fleece (1974), Common One (1980), Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart (1983), Live At The Grand Opera House, Belfast (1984), No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986), Enlightenment (1990), A Night In San Francisco (2CD Live Set) (1994) and The Healing Game (1997)
(see SEPARATE REVIEWS for "Enlightenment" and "Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart")
November 2008 (7 titles)
Saint Dominic's Preview (1972), A Period Of Transition (1977), Beautiful Vision (1982), Poetic Champions Compose (1987), Hymns To The Silence (2CD Studio Set) (1991), How Long Has This Been Going On (Live At Ronnie Scott's) (1995), Tell Me Something - The Songs Of Mose Allison (1996)
January 2009 (8 titles)
Hard Nose The Highway (1973), Irish Heartbeat (with The Chieftains) (1988),
Too Long In Exile (1993), Days Like This (1995), The Story Of Them (2CD Set) (1999), The Skiffle Sessions - Live In Belfast (with Lonnie Donegan & Chris Barber) (2000), Down The Road (2002) and What's Wrong With This Picture? (2003)
Those hoping to see desperately needed sonic upgrades of his 1st and 2nd album masterpieces on Warner Bothers "Astral Weeks" (1968) and "Moondance" (1970) or even "His Band & The Street Choir" (late 1970) will be disappointed to hear that they're NOT in this re-issue campaign. Apparently there is still some dispute between the record label and Van that remains unresolved. A damn shame! "Astral Weeks" and "Moondance" in particular have both been languishing around on crappy-sounding non-remastered CDs for over 20 years now and they're glaringly obvious omissions in this supposedly 'extensive' re-issue campaign. These universally recognized masterpieces deserve 2CD DELUXE EDITION treatment and soon. (Some tracks in remastered form are available across the 3 volumes of "Best Of"). Let's hope they sort their differences and soon!
on 10 March 2006
It’s all been pretty much said by the other reviewers but I couldn’t resist adding some comments. I was awed at Astral Weeks and I felt immense admiration for the albums Van made just after that. But when I first heard Veedon Fleece I honestly thought that – at long last – this was the real second album by the man who made Astral Weeks.
There is much in common between Weeks and Veedon – the subdued (for some obviously too subdued) tone, the acoustic (though not always folksy) instrumentation, the mixing of different styles to the point where it’s practically impossible to classify the tracks, and – above all else – a deep sense of pain that is all the more intense for being indefinable.
For me Veedon Fleece is actually the sadder of the two. Astral Weeks sounds like a young man caught in the confusion of adolescence. At least he has most of his life still ahead. But Veedon Fleece, although Van was still pretty young at the time, has an autumnal feel.
Van has always hated people reading their own meanings into his music and he would probably hate me saying this. But this is how the album strikes me:- The singer is living in a rural paradise and yet he feels alienated from his surroundings by a feeling of unease or even guilt. And the vast gap between the external beauty and his inner anguish only serves to exacerbate that anguish. The songs seem to trace an emotional progression where he is struggling to overcome his pain. There is a sense that he is trying to gain control. The crucial track “You Don’t Pull No Punches But You Don’t Push the River” represents a turning point. The songs after that represent a gradual calming until “Come Here My Love” in which there seems to be complete serenity but there is still the feeling of an inner disquiet – it is like a deep pool that seems still but still occasionally ripples. And then “Country Fair” –for me the most beautiful song Van ever wrote – conveys an almost unbearable nostalgia. (And this track has one of the most spine tingling moments in all Van – as he sings “On that old pine cone open day” towards the end, there is a weird, eerie barely audible sighing sound in the background. It may be strings, it may be distant voices.)
I can think of no other album – by Van or anyone else – that leaves me with such a sense of (and I’m afraid there’s no avoiding this corny word) heartbreak.
It would be unfair to say I’m still waiting for his third real album. Two such albums are enough for any life time.
on 27 November 2005
This little known album should be in every home. Although I love listening to new music and have very eclectic tastes this is one that I return to over and over and have listened to it far more times than any other album.
After the fair to middling 'His band and Street choir' and 'hard nose the highway',Van Morrison fused his bluesy,jazzy musical cocktail with the folky strains of his celtic homeland.
The result is something of a near masterpiece brimming with smooth,warm vocals and pared back instrumentals.
'Veedon Fleece',it has to be said,is a beautiful album which shows the growing creative maturity of the composer.A decade on and Van Morrison would produce a stunning string of 'celtic blues' albums; 'Inarticulate speech of the heart'...'Beautiful vision'..'Poetic champions'..'No guru etc'...This album points the way.
on 28 July 2010
This album has filled in hours of my life and the mental imagery it creates is trip worthy.Songs appear to not fit but on reflection do.
When people ask me why do I love Van, I reply listen to Linden Arden - they either get it or they don't.
I am selfish in the fact I rejoice in people not getting it . You want it to be longer but feel guilty thinking it - cannot explain it.
Astral Weeks gets the praise(and rightly so) but this is it's equal (or better).
Lay down on the floor in the dark and this will float your mind around the room if you let it.
on 15 April 2012
This is a very deep, beautiful, essential recording and without doubt my favourite Van Morrison record. It's full of surreal and cryptic lyrics with musical vibes to match.
Sadly, the perfect sound of the original LP is lost on the latest Polydor/Exile edition, a misjudged remastering (and remixing?) which makes this beautiful mellow sounding recording unnecessarily sharp & shrill at times, especially on some vocals.
Do yourself a favour and hear Veedon Fleece as it was recorded, and intended to be heard, by avoiding the latest remaster (with a couple of additional tracks) and track down either the original 10 track Warner LP/CD, or the Polydor CD edition that was mastered sympathetically by Hans Brethouwer (839 164-2) because (unlike the latest edition) it sounds absolutely perfect.