Van Morrison – Moondance (deluxe edition)

Van Morrison – Moondance – Deluxe Edition  (Warner Brothers) review

A magical album gets gloriously remastered with a treasure-trove of unreleased goodies

Rarely is an album so universally loved like Moondance.  Critics have long praised it as the peak of Van Morrison’s legendary career.  Yet, millions of people have made it a part of their collection for its romantic undertones.  Deeply spiritual, yet grounded organically, Moondance has a timeless quality shared by few albums of any generation.  Ironically, the only thing this iconic record hasn’t received is a proper remastering treatment – that is, until now.  Warner Brothers has just issued Moondance – Deluxe Edition, featuring the original album, plus four extra discs of bonus material, featuring rehearsals, alternate takes, and even unreleased tracks.

If you already own a copy of Moondance on CD, you’ll want to toss it in the trash.  Seriously.  For years, every version on compact disc has been mastered too slow compared to the vinyl,  making everything drag a little.  Plus, the fidelity was lifeless – all those warm instruments just sounded tinny.  This new version corrects all of that – the horns, acoustic guitars, and bass come jumping out of the speakers – it really is a revelatory improvement.

Also restored is the original, LP mix of “Into the Mystic,” which features a tambourine heavier in the mix, and a louder fog horn – all previous CD copies have included an alternate version of this song.

If you pick up the Deluxe Edition, you’ll find three extra discs of bonus footage, plus a Blu Ray of the entire album in surround sound.

These alternate versions show Morrison building his masterpiece from scratch.  It begins with take one of “Caravan,” before the song even had a title.  You can really hear the creative process at work as he goes from numerous takes (and retakes).  Many of the early run throughs lumber along; the music sounds like it’s too heavy.  But, there are some fantastic instrumental parts here. By take 8, things were coming together, with some blistering guitar work that is definitely more energetic than the released version.  Yet, Van seemed unhappy with the finished product.  So, he chose to redo the song, sans the horns.  The stripped down arrangement, titled “Caravan redo,” with just acoustic guitar, bass & drums is definitely one of the highlights of this new box.  There’s even a remix, which adds an interesting sax solo in the middle of the song.

Another track we get to hear mature is “Moondance” – the early takes have a definite Bill Evans’ feel – strict classic jazz like Miles Davis’ “So What.”  Van’s vocals are too laid back, as if he’s disinterested in the whole process.  It’s pretty “out there.” What makes the finished product so remarkable is the earthy element that Van put in, giving it a buoyancy that elevates it above jazz to true magnificence.

There’s an early version of “Into the Mystic” where Morrison delves into different territory.  For example, he explores a higher vocal register in take 11.

The real gem of this new, expanded set is the discovery of a completely unreleased song, “I Shall Sing,” which has a Spanish quality, featuring prominent horns.  The driving beat may be what kept it from being included with the more introspective material.  But, it does have a fantastic breakdown in the middle with just horns.

There’s also several takes of “I’ve Been Working,” which was saved for his next record, Van Morrison, His Band and the Street Choir.  Again, left off probably because it didn’t fit the mood of the rest of Moondance.  But, the versions laid down here far surpass what was eventually released.  Take 5 especially works into a dizzying groove of over ten minutes that you just don’t want to end.

This new edition comes housed in a cloth folio that resembles an old 78 album book, and features some fantastic archival photos.  There’s also the classic, original liner notes written by Van’s then-girlfriend Janet Planet.  Her telling of a fable of a man with a “special gift” certainly fits with the album’s overall spiritual vibe.

When discussing most of the “Greatest Albums of All-time,” you usually have to give some background for each record: “Exile on Main Street was the Stones’ return to form,” or “Sgt. Pepper was the Beatles at their experimental peak.”  Moondance needs no such backstory to be enjoyed.  It is simply put, a great listen from start to finish.  This new Deluxe Edition sounds better than anything else you’ve heard.  The addition of the bonus material helps add to the album’s already huge legacy.  If you’re a fan of Moondance, this is the version you need.  –Tony Peters