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Review of the 2013 2-CD `Expanded Edition' of Van Morrison's `Moondance'
on 19 December 2010
Van's third album released in 1970 could hardly be more different than its immediate predecessor, the seminal `Astral Weeks'. As an original musical masterpiece AW is universally recognised as something unique and special; however, `Moondance' is a mellower, more mature offering, less demanding and insistent. In the past 40 years it has been played and enjoyed by millions throughout the world and continues to win new generations of appreciative fans with each passing decade. The songs here are more structured, more accessible, and stand on their own as separate pieces. Many have been covered by other artists, but none of these covers comes close to the magic of Van's original recordings.
The album is an exemplary collection of beautiful pieces, with styles ranging from jazzy (the title track) to rocky up-tempo (Running to me), to midnight romantic-mood piece (Crazy Love), gospel-themed with backing choir (Brand New Day) to the sublime (Into the Mystic). Every song is good, and they fit together seamlessly to make for a special listening experience. You can listen to `Moondance' every day just about anywhere, anytime and you will never tire of it: this is rare indeed.
The powerful, restless dynamism of Van's voice, bursting with the passionate intensity of youth, together with visionary lyrical writing elevates some of these songs to timeless greats. There is no trace here of the bland, the formulaic or mundane. Van is a true original, and if `Moondance' were his only career recording he would still win entry to the Hall of Fame. That a consistency of excellence and increasing mastery of musical form is evident throughout his 40-year career puts him right up there in the top 10 musical innovators of the past 50 years: talented, hard to categorise, versatile, eclectic, respected, unique.
Now in October 2013 we have the `Expanded Edition' from Warner Bros, containing a re-mastered version of the classic album on one CD, and a second CD full of previously unreleased `sessions, alternates and outtakes'. These are interesting to say the least and contain some numbers which didn't make it onto the original release like `Nobody knows when you're down & out', `I shall sing' and a long, frantic jam-version of `I've been working'.
The package is rounded off by a tasteful 24-page booklet containing a cryptic essay in story-format by Janet Planet; a long essay on the `Moondance' recording sessions and the impact of the album on the music scene by Alan Light, and a shorter elegy penned by the original sound engineer Elliot Scheiner.
Overall this is a nice package, and the one to go for if you don't already have this classic album in your collection.