Music News & Reviews

Critic's pick: Van Morrison, 'Moondance' deluxe edition

One has to wonder about the timing and arrival this fall of three new editions of Van Morrison's 1970 classic, Moondance.

Usually, such reissue projects are tied to an anniversary of the original album release date, the recording sessions or some such milestone. These newly reconstituted editions of Moondance come with no such strings. They are simply an extended chronicle of Morrison at one of his first creative peaks (he was 24 when the album was cut in fall 1969) and a reflection of an altogether different pop era.

Infused by piano, brass, subtle but purposeful guitar and, of course, the giddy high tenor of Morrison's otherworldly singing, Moondance flew in the face of the pop psychedelia of the day. A mighty funk groove is summoned during three takes on I've Been Working — a highlight of the album's new five-disc deluxe edition even though the tune wouldn't officially surface for another 10 months on the late-1970 follow-up His Band and the Street Choir — but much of this music is an altogether live-sounding mix of folk, pop and soul.

Sometimes the blend produces deliciously unexpected results — like the harpsichord that races like a bullet train through Everyone, one of only two Moondance tunes not examined in the reissues through outtake versions (the album-opening And It Stoned Me is the other). On the soul side is the true discovery on the new Moondance editions of a calypso tune titled I Shall Sing. It reflects every bit of the spiritual bliss encircling the album's cornerstone works, Caravan and Into the Mystic, even though the song sounds like a comparatively streamlined blast of brassy, party-deck pop.

Both Caravan and Into the Mystic are presented on the five-disc edition through a treasure trove of outtakes. All are remarkably insightful in regard to the music's construction. These aren't blueprint-style demo recordings. Because the bulk of the album was recorded live (save for the horns), the tracks are complete but sometimes understandably tentative performances that will make you feel as if you're eavesdropping.

The five-disc Moondance deluxe edition was reviewed here, although it is essentially a luxury purchase for rabid diehards. You still get a strong feel for all the extras on the two-disc expanded edition, even though it trims the outtakes to 11 tunes. And for those who simply want to soak in the newly remastered version of Moondance or, heaven forbid, have never experienced this glorious music in the first place, there is the standard edition, which covers the original 39-minute album.

Regardless of which of these editions suits your budget and dedication, Moondance remains, nearly 44 years after its creation, a vital pop masterwork. How grand it is to bask in its glow again.