“It’s too late to stop now,” shouts Van Morrison at the end of an exhaustive soul manifesto version of Cypress Avenue from a July 1973 performance at London’s Rainbow Theatre. The dramatic coda — also the closing line to the original studio version of Into the Mystic, another gem the vanguard Belfast soul stylist performed earlier in the set — was pulled as the title for a resulting 1974 live album, It’s Too Late to Stop Now.
Widely considered an essential document of Morrison at perhaps the performance peak of his career, the album resurfaces this week in beautifully re-mastered, double-disc glory. But that’s just for starters. It’s Too Late to Stop Now now comes with a whopping encore: three CDs of previously unreleased performances from the same tour that gave us the original album and a DVD capturing 50 minutes of the original Rainbow show, aptly and collectively dubbed It’s Too Late to Stop Now… Volumes II, III, IV & DVD.
The magic inherent in all of the recordings is two fold. First, it caps off the initial chapters of Morrison’s tenure with Warner Bros., a period that saw the release of six sublime albums in as many years. The repertoire then mixes in early hits (Brown Eyed Girl), nuggets from his 1960 tenure with the group Them (Here Comes the Night), and a few R&B staples (a scorching take on Ray Charles’ I Believe to My Soul).
The highlights, though, are the lesser-known works. Listen to the Lion, a riotous confessional from 1972’s Saint Dominic’s Preview that builds like a hurricane, was a highlight of the original It’s Too Late to Stop Now and is reprised twice on the newer discs, with an especially vital-sounding rendition kicking off Volume IV. But the biggest surprises surface on Volume II with three tunes from 1973’s Hard Nose the Highway, one of the biggest sleeper albums in Morrison’s Warner Bros. catalog. Snow in San Anselmo, Purple Heather and Hard Nose’s title tune all signal a swing to a darker, more internalized brand of Celtic soul that Morrison would pursue throughout the later 1970s.
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The other remarkable aspect of all these recordings was Morrison’s band, the Caledonia Soul Orchestra — a nine-member unit utilizing two horn players, a string trio and a rhythm section. Fortifying Morrison’s tireless voice, a roller-coaster soul tenor possessed by fervent Irish mystique, is the ensemble’s flexibly elegant support. It enforces the playful bounce of Moonshine Whiskey, the celebratory drive of Caravan and the regal tension of Listen to the Lion.
New to this remarkable era of Morrison music? Here is an expansive invitation to explore its riches. In short, it’s never too late to discover It’s Too Late to Stop Now.