Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Moondance by VAN MORRISON (2CD ‘Expanded’ Edition Remasters) - A Review By Mark Barry...

"…Let Your Soul And Spirit Fly…Into The Mystic…" 

First things first – the reissued album "Moondance" is presented in ‘two’ versions. The other is a DELUXE EDITION 4CD/1BLU RAY set in a book that has received derision for its packaging faults. This review is for the October 2013 'EXPANDED EDITION' 2CD version in a three-way foldout card digipak on Warner Brothers R2 536561 (Barcode 081227963842).  I love the way this reissue looks, feels and sounds. Here are the fantabulous details…

1. And It Stoned Me
2. Moondance
3. Crazy Love
4. Caravan
5. Into The Mystic
6. Come Running [Side 2]
7. These Dreams Of You
8. Brand New Day
9. Everyone
10. Glad Tidings
Disc 1 has the 10-track album in 2013 remastered form (38:56 minutes). The original self-produced vinyl LP "Moondance" was released March 1970 on Warner Brothers WS 1835 in the USA and UK.

1. Caravan (Take 4)
2. Nobody Knows You When You’re Done And Out (Outtake)
3. Into The Mystic (Take 11)
4. Brand New Day (Take 3)
5. Glad Tidings (Alternate Version)
6. Come Running (Take 2)
7. Crazy Love (Mono Mix)
8. These Dreams Of You (Alternate Version)
9. Moondance (Take 22)
10. I Shall Sing (Take 7)
11. I’ve Been Working (Early Version, Take 5)
Disc 2 (52:12 minutes) is an 11-track Bonus CD with Sessions, Alternates & Outtakes. The three-way card digipak houses CD1 in the left flap with pictures of the master tape boxes beneath – the 24-page sepia-effect booklet sits in a centred lip pouch with a photo of Van out walking amongst Autumn trees and Disc 2 is on the right – again with tapes boxes beneath the see-through tray. The booklet also features Janet Planet’s original notes, a new essay by Alan Light, photo outtakes from the cover session and notes on the recording and master tapes.  But then you get to the real meat and potatoes – the huge overhaul in sound...

The original tape engineer ELLIOT SCHEINER has been recalled for the remaster and he gives 3 pages of warm and detailed explanation. The album was recorded in Mono in two gulps - September and November 1969 - and then mastered into Stereo on the latest equipment of the day - an 8-track. There is faintly detectable hiss on some of the songs inherent to the original tapes - but the clarity on his vocals and the individual instruments is now truly fantastic – warm, sweet and allowed to breath. I don’t detect any compression here - nor is it over trebled for effect – it’s just beautifully handled and allowed to simply be.

While "And It Stoned Me" is a good sonic opener – the remaster really kicks in with "Moondance" and "Crazy Love" where John Kleinberg’s bass and Jeff Labes’ Piano are suddenly alive - while the fabulous threesome of backing singers Emily Houston, Judy Clay and Jackie Verdell add so much Soul to these renditions. Then you're hit with "Caravan" and everyone's Soul igniter – "Into The Mystic". And wow is the only appropriate response. Like so many fans I've waited too long to hear these joyous songs sound this good. And when he launches into that abandoned vocal during "Into The Mystic" ("…I Wanna Rock Your Gypsy Soul…Just Like Way Back In The Days Of Old…") – I'm blubbing like a teenager confronted by Ryan Gosling…. 

I hadn't expected the bonus to be so brilliant. It hits you on many fronts - the intimacy - sound engineers talking in the takes - classics in beautiful full-studio sound quality. Take 3 of "Brand New Day" is shockingly gorgeous and he may have lost something in the final translation. As if to reinforce that Take 2 of "Come Running" is even better – the band and song fresh – a truly lovely outtake (I'll re-play this cut more than the album version). Even the finger-clicked in "Crazy Love" which is Mono is lovely (possibly the mix used for the 7" single B-side to "Come Running"). The only one that sounds slightly off is the out-of-whack piano and vocal to Take 22 of "Moondance" – a jazz-based rock track he seemed to struggle with feel-wise.

Listening to Take 11 of "Into The Mystic" is as spine-tingling as the finished track and while the Jimmie Cox cover version "Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out" is a bit of a let down – the new song "I Shall Sing" is properly fabulous stuff and only hammers home the huge contribution the horn section of Jack Schroer (Alto and Tenor Sax) and Collin Tilton (Trombone and Flute) made to the album. In fact it sounds like The Mavericks only 30 years before their time. The last entry is a genuinely unexpected high - the band fully rocking it out on Take 5 of "I've Been Working" which goes a little Beefheart in its quirky guitar parts. Its ten-plus minutes is cooking ("I've been working for Jesse James…") and ends Disc 2 with a feeling that you’ve been treated to something very special indeed. In fact in some respects I prefer the single disc of alternate versions and outtakes rather than the overload of the 5-disc version that for me actually spoils the magic of the original album.

In truth Van Morrison fans have been waiting more than 40 years to hear one of their favourite albums sound this good and finally be presented with a degree of packaging dignity its always deserved at least in the 2-disc version). The only real mystery is why it wasn’t combined with a series of releases – one of which would be the masterpiece that preceded it – "Astral Weeks"? But that's another man's licensing headache.

"Switch on your electric light" Van sings on "Caravan". Well after all this time - "Moondance" is burning brighter than ever. Don't hesitate - buy this beautiful reissue...

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