Ostensibly the most nostalgic of songwriters, Van Morrison has resisted attempts to archive his back catalogue; a succession of remastering programmes have bitten the dust or emerged in a most illogical manner. So there was cause for rejoicing when the Moondance package was announced: a 4CD-plus-Blu-ray box comprising the remastered original of the 1970 album that brought him acclaim, and all the trimmings. You get works-in-progress, mono mixes and alternates, the lure of Van’s first stabs at “Irish folk song” I’ve Been Working (completed for His Band And The Street Choir), calypso and ska version(s) of I Shall Sing (a hit for Art Garfunkel) and the unreleased Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out, a prohibition-era blues song penned by Jimmy Cox and popularised by Bessie Smith. Van treats it like something Allen Toussaint used to write for Lee Dorsey. Terrific.
But if anyone thought Morrison was a willing participant in this venture, think again. A recent statement from the artist one might refer to as #grumpybeersbridgeroad sets the record straight. “I did not endorse this, it is unauthorised and has happened behind my back. My management company at that time gave this music away 42 years ago and now I feel as though it’s being stolen from me again.”
That won’t cut no ice with the Brothers Warner. Moondance is Van’s biggest-selling album, spawning so many covers of Into The Mystic, Crazy Love and the title track that it became regarded as wine-bar wallpaper.
At least this redresses the notion one could become sick of it, and reminds one it was a bloody great record. If he’d brook no teacher and had no guru, he did have a method: namely to take a vivid snapshot from the memory bank, a fragment of childhood, and either through innate poesy or via the mysterious machinations of the idiot savant, turn that into something universal. The opener And It Stoned Me, where a fishing trip with a young pal becomes a baptismal rite of passage, is a case in point. Jelly Roll and gypsy soul, tinkers’ caravans, half-heard radios, rural walks in Ireland, gulps of air in his newly adopted Woodstock home, all summoned on a distant foghorn. Then reality bites him. These Dreams Of You is both a love song and a nightmare about Ray Charles. The chorus and the bridge are in total conflict. Glad Tidings is equally compromised between chivalry and treachery. So not quite your average Michael Bublé album, then.
Musically speaking it’s a marvel. The horns bump around in the manner of The Jazz Crusaders, the rhythms click and purr and the man’s voice is as refreshing as water from a mountain stream. You might not need all the different takes of Come Running or Brand New Day, but if you’ve waited 42 years for this you’ll find time. Besides, if Moondance was good enough for George Clooney’s Desert Island Discs it should be good enough to turn up on your radio. That’s enough.