Van Morrison – Moondance: Expanded Edition (1970; 2013 reissue)

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Moondance is a classic,” Van Morrison once said. “I put things together that nobody’s ever put together before. I’m proud of that.” Over four decades later, no one has matched the eclectic and mystical nature of the singer-songwriter’s 1970 masterpiece.

Spanning jazz, soul, blues, folk, rock, and a touch of his Irish roots, Moondance stands as Morrison’s artistic statement, proof that he was more than the bluesman of “Gloria” or “Baby Please Don’t Go.” His poetic lyrics and soulful voice comprised his own genre, a hard-to-define sound encompassing numerous musical and composition styles into a new yet somehow familiar potpourri.

Newly remastered, Moondance has been reissued in several packages, all featuring pristine sound quality and previously unheard outtakes. Fans of the legendary disc will find these extras fascinating.

New liner notes provide valuable context for appreciating the album. After recording a string of hits with previous group Them, he relocated from Ireland to America and recorded his solo debut Blowin’ Your Mind. While he reportedly hated the album, it spawned the classic-rock staple “Brown Eyed Girl.”

Seeking a new musical direction, Morrison changed labels and released 1968’s Astral Weeks, a meditative work that earned critical acclaim but bombed commercially. Retreating to his Woodstock, New York home, he began writing material that would eventually comprise Moondance. Wisely, he chose a stellar group of musicians and produced the effort himself, ensuring full control of his art. The result restored his commercial power and drew praise from critics and his peers.

Even now, Moondance sounds timeless, not associated with any particular era. The title track soars by blending traditional jazz with Morrison’s blues-tinged vocals, swinging harder than any rock musician ever has. “Into the Mystic” blends the love song with images of travel and movement, and contains some of the most poetic lyrics even written in a rock track: “And I want to rock your gypsy soul, just like way back in the days of old — and magnificently we will flow into the mystic,” Morrison wails. Somehow these abstract concepts resonate with virtually every listener.

“Crazy Love” has been covered by so many artists that it has become almost overplayed. However, listen to the track with fresh ears, and lose yourself in its gospel flavor. Remakes have never quite captured the song’s spiritual aspects as well as romantic. “I can hear her heart beat for a thousand miles — and the heavens open every time she smiles,” he gently croons. Morrison later states that his lover makes him feel “righteous” and takes away his troubles and grief—he would return to these themes years later in the overtly religious “Have I Told You Lately.”

Every track celebrates various aspects of life: wonderful music (“And It Stoned Me”), redemption (“Brand New Day”), travel (“Caravan”) and romance (“Moondance”) among many other topics. The literary lyrics, stellar musicianship by band members such as horn players Jack Schroer and Collin Tilton, and Morrison’s unique vocal instrument add up to a meaningful listening experience and, as Morrison rightly claimed, a classic.

The Moondance reissue comes in three configurations: the Standard Edition, which includes the remastered album only; the Expanded Edition, a two-CD package including the original album and a disc of outtakes and alternate versions; and the Deluxe Edition, a four CD/1 Blu-Ray audio disc package for the ultimate Morrison fan. While Morrison newcomers may opt for the Standard Edition, longtime fans of the artist and album will enjoy the Expanded version.

The extra disc allows for a “fly on the wall” experience, allowing the listener to virtually eavesdrop on some Moondance sessions. Each so-called “outtake” proves a winner, demonstrating that Morrison suffered from an abundance of riches when choosing which tracks and takes would comprise the final album. Of particular interest are songs that did not make the final cut: “I’ve Been Working,” an extended R&B jam; “I Shall Sing”: and the blues number “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.” Morrison’s voice remains strong on each cut, and hearing him direct the band is a joy.

Only hardcore fans should opt for the Deluxe Edition, as it offers three discs of Moondance session material. The Blu-Ray audio disc includes the original album in state-of-the art sound.

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