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4.6 out of 5 stars25
4.6 out of 5 stars
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Typical. The CD you least want to buy - turns out being the one you need the most!

Here's why. Back in 1999 when "Back On Top" was issued, it was touted in the music press as something of a return to form (how many times have we heard that) and on tracks like "Reminds Me Of You" and "When The Leaves Come Falling Down" it actually was. It also boasted truly superlative production values - sound so warm, so clear, and at times so loud, that you had to rush over to the stereo to turn the volume down. So this January 2008 reissue in remastered form of an album that's only a few years old, an album that already boasts truly beautiful sound quality - is a bit superfluous to requirements to say the least. And worse - it's a reissue that forces fans to repurchase what they already own without any discernable bonus in the purchase. Until of course you hear the two previously unreleased bonus tracks they've added on here - and lo and behold - they're absolutely brilliant and must owns!

First up is an Alternate Version of one of the album's strongest songs "Philosopher's Stone" which is done in a jaunty almost sauntering blues fashion with MIKE SANCHEZ providing fantastic Piano and Guitar work. The subtle and smooth Double Bass is played by IAN JENNINGS. It's not as good as the finished more soulful version for sure, but it is excellent - and genuinely deserves the moniker "bonus". But best is kept to last. "Valley Of Tears" is a new song and a truly lovely ballad. JOOLS HOLLAND plays subtle and beautiful piano work on it with a trio of superbly emotive brass fills from PEE WEE ELLIS, LEO GREEN and MATT HOLLAND on Trumpet, Tenor and Baritone Sax. Fans will absolutely have to own these.

All 10 songs on "Back On Top" are written by Van (as are the two bonuses) and the backing musicians and their contributions are typically outstanding. MICK GREEN features on Electric and Acoustic Guitars, PEE WEE ELLIS on Soprano & Tenor Saxophone and GERAINT WATKINS fills in for Georgie Fame with really complimentary keyboard work on both Piano and Hammond Organ. If anything the album's mood is defined by Watkins' warm and slinky Hammond Organ sound, a mellow warm hum that imbibes almost every track with an `old' feel. BRIAN KENNEDY'S duet vocals on preceding albums had been criticized by some fans for almost drowning out the tunes and many just didn't like his high-pitched slightly whiny voice intruding on everything - his contributions on 9 of the albums 10 tracks have been downplayed to just backing vocals - and the songs are better for it. The album's finisher, "Golden Autumn Day", is a good example of ensemble contribution showing how the top quality musicians add so much to the finished song. FIACHRA TRENCH (who did the string arrangements for Fairytale of New York by The Pogues) provides both Piano and string accompaniment to really lovely effect, while PEE WEE ELLIS puts in a tasty Sax solo too. And not to be undone, Van himself blows up a deliciously hooky harmonica solo that's probably the best I've ever heard him do.

The upgraded booklet contains all the lyrics in the same style as the original CD release and a detailed list of who sessions on what, but disappointingly there's no history of where the album fits in, no new liner notes, nor any photographs. The lyrics to the bonus tracks are newly reproduced at the end of the booklet. The original master tapes have been 96K/24 Bit digitally remastered by Tim Young at Metropolis Mastering in London for this 28 January 2008 release and the sound is GORGEOUS - really amazing (but then so was the original).

To sum up - of the 7 discs I've bought in the initial part of this exemplary re-issue campaign, this CD boasts the best sound quality and the best previously unreleased bonus tracks. Newcomers should dig in with confidence; it's a good Van album with great extras. While fans will just have to grit their teeth and smile at their bank managers once again. Oh dear!

PS:
Like "Back On Top", 28 other Van Morrison albums are to be re-issued in remastered form throughout 2008 and into early 2009. Each will contain upgraded booklets, previously unreleased material and all will be at mid-price. They'll be released in 4 batches as follows (29 in total):

January 2008 (7 titles)
Tupelo Honey (1971), It's Too Late To Stop Now (2 CD Live Set) (1974),
Wavelenght (1978), Into The Music (1979), A Sense Of Wonder (1985),
Avalon Sunset (1989) and Back On Top (1999)

June 2008 (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)

September 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)

PPS:
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 find 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!

Also, Van's new studio album "Keep It Simple" is due on 17 March 2008 in the UK and 1 April 2008 in the USA.

(For those interested in this re-issue series, I've also done separate reviews for "Tupelo Honey", "Wavelength", "Into The Music", the live 2CD set "It's Too Late To Stop Now" and "A Sense Of Wonder")
0Comment|24 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 25 November 2001
over the last 6 years or so i have become a big van the man fan and this album has to be in my opinion his greatest ever.the music is a combination of slow relaxing chillout music combined with typical van morrison sing along with meaningful lyrics.I listen to this album when i am feeling low and it picks me up.i also listen to it when i am in need of a good singalong album.basically i would reccomend anyone to buy this album,its a fantastic combination of pick you up and relaxing music.this is my favourite album that i have ever bought.do yourself a favour and buy it
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That's it, right there in the title. That's my review.
Enjoy!
Well, okay. This album is a mixed bag of jazz, blues and traditional R&B, beautifully arranged, masterfully played and sung, and if you are relatively new to the music of Van Morrison, "Back On Top" is a great starting point.
Morrison's husky, soulful vocals are still strong, and his songwriting is superb. Just listen to the bluesy title track, or the lovely, swinging "Precious Time".
Not as ground-breaking or idiosyncratic as "Moondance" or "Astral Weeks", perhaps, but "Back On Top" is still a worthy and very welcome addition to Van Morrison's catalogue.
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VINE VOICEon 9 March 2009
Back on top; it pretty much says it all. Anybody expecting anything new should look elsewhere; what we have here is a selection covering pretty much all the styles and themes the man has ever evoked. Beyond this there is a very strong roots feel to the material, a getting back to the real musical underpinnings of a long career. The musicianship is of course, peerless; the man doesn't work with amateurs. However there's a brio here, a vitality, a warmth and, dare I say it, almost a spirit of optimism, of conviction, that wasn't always evident in some earlier outings. The bonus track of "The Philosophers Stone" presented here as a 12-bar blues, with an element of wry humour, is alone worth the asking price of this CD IMHO. Like virtually all the mans output, the material presented here is more or less autobiographical. Listening to this, as with much else of the VM canon, it's easy to understand his arms-length approach to the media, especially the press: what you need to know about the man is all in the songs: life, times, the spiritual journey. Anyone needing to know anything else just hasn't been paying attention. Back on Top? Absolutely!
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on 15 January 2001
This is a good album, although not absolutely blinding if you consider it to other VM material. Having said this, 'Precious Time' and 'High Summer' are absolutely fantastic tracks that you will love the second you hear them. They should go on to be real classics in the vein of 'Brown Eyed Girl'.
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on 4 November 1999
This CD is good. Its better than good its fantastic, Van the Man kicks off this superb new album with a his swinging jazzy blues and "Going down Geneva", listen to this album just for the piano on this track. "Philosophers Stone" is the next tune and it is the best song on the album and close to the best in his career, its a beautiful, slow and earthy song which you've got to hear. Good songs flow consistently through this album but then thats what we've come to expect from Van Morrison. This time round though there are an array of gems to be heard, If you liked the single "Precious Time" you'll love the album. Go listen to the "Philosophers Stone" ... You'll see.
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on 22 November 2011
Owned this album untill about 10 years ago when it was stolen in a car break in.
Promised myself I would replace it sometime.
Every bit as good as I remembered it.
Moody, atmospheric, Van Morrison at his best...
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on 21 October 2014
A stunning, inventive album, showcasing all Van's incredible abilities as a performer, singer and songwriter. From the blues of ' Goin' Down Geneva' with its generous namechecking of Vince Taylor (who Van clearly remembers) to the standstill beauty of ' The Philosophers Stone', 'Golden Autumn Day' and 'When the Leaves Come Falling Down' (which references Chet Baker). Van may be getting older, but he still challenges the musicians of today as well as of his own generation
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on 23 January 2000
This album is absolutely wonderful. It's like warm, golden honey. Perfect driving music or for relaxing at home. Everytime I listen to it I immediately feel happy, relaxed and content. The tracks Precious Time and Golden Autumn Day inspired me to take up playing the saxophone!
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on 27 October 2013
For some reason van didn't appeal to me until recently. Started by buying a best of cd and properly listened for the first time. My collection is now growing and this album is one of the best.
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