Time and Again – Van Morrison’s Moondance

Van_Morrison_Moondance-1How is it I never listened to this album all the way through until after I’d graduated college? How is it I went 22 years having only heard the title song and maybe “And It Stoned Me?”

How was I that ignorant of one of the absolute best albums that has ever existed ever in the history of music?

In my defense, he wasn’t Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Queen, or Moxy Fruvous (the bands and musicians I was, well, obsessed with throughout high school and most of college). He was my brother’s favorite, and while I liked tunes like “Brown-Eyed Girl” well enough, Van just didn’t really pop up on my radar that much.

Then I spent the summer in Yellowstone National Park with said brother. We spent a lot of time listening to (and making our own) music. Van Morrison was in heavy rotation (along with plenty of Dylan, Neil Young, etc.). It was inescapable, and soon I was a fan.

Moondance is, simply put, the best album Van Morrison ever released. Sure, there are those who say Astral Weeks is the better, more-ambitious album, or that Tupelo Honey better represents the blend of country, R&B, Celtic soul, and whatever else Van wanted to throw into the mix. There might even be a couple of apologists for 1974’s Veedon Fleece (my wife’s uncle, for one). Those people are, in a word, wrong. To be any wronger, we’d have to develop a whole new wrongness scale with new terms for being completely, absolutely, fundamentally wrong, then bury the needle on it, because Moondance is the best damn album in Van Morrison’s extensive catalog.

What Moondance does, better than any other album, is put amazing song after amazing song down in front of the listener. It’s not a matter of genre-hopping for the sake of having a country song and a Celtic soul song and an R&B song and a jazz standard song on the album; instead of letting form dictate the song, the song dictates the form. This isn’t pastiche, it’s genuine affection for different styles of music that Van had absorbed in his youth and synthesized into something new and wonderful. Each song feels a little different, but of a whole: the lead-off, “And it Stoned Me,” is a beautiful ode to childhood (and moonshine), done in an almost country ballad style, while the title track is a swinging pop standard that wouldn’t sound out of place if sung by the likes of Sinatra (or, if you want to get more recent, Michael Buble). “Crazy Love” is just one of the most beautiful love songs ever. “Caravan” is a bouncy, jazzy, jubilant tune with a sing-along coda that I will join in with at the top of my lungs every time, and “Into the Mystic” is the best Celtic soul song Van’s ever done, period.

The second half of the record, while not the string of instant classics that is the first side, is still really damn impressive. “Come Running” has that great horn line that pops up in the chorus and a bridge that gets me smiling every time. You can almost hear Van himself grinning through “These Dreams of You,” with its clever lines like, “You slapped me on the face/I turned around the other cheek.” The only song that I don’t particularly care for is “Brand New Day,” which just feels too slow and drags a bit. It’s not a bad song, per se, but amidst nine other tracks of sheer brilliance, it kinda sticks out as less than stellar. Things pick back up with the harpsichord-driven “Everyone,” with its sprightly martial drumbeat and flute or fife or whatever instrument it is trilling in the background. Things come to a close with “Glad Tidings,” with its insistent bass line and horn stings, pointing the way to future tracks like the always-awesome “Wild Night” (off Tupelo Honey, natch).

From start to finish, Moondance is an accomplished, comfortable record that I always want to start over from the beginning whenever I reach the end. It doesn’t feel as mannered or as calculated as some of his later work, but what it lacks in formal stateliness it more than makes up for with sheer inventiveness and just damn-good songwriting and performance. It is, hands-down, my favorite Van Morrison album, and the highlight of a career that is, frankly, full of them.


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