Sunday, 31 January 2016

"His Band And The Street Choir" by VAN MORRISON (2015 Warner Brothers 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Nice Feel..." 

When Van Morrison’s entire Back Catalogue was promised to us on shiny new Expanded CD Remasters in 2008 and 2009 - lovers of Van The Man’s music will know two things – the last two batches were cancelled – and even then there were exceptions not available as Remasters no matter what – "Astral Weeks", "Moondance" and this – "His Band And The Street Choir".

Fans have had to wait nearly a decade for the legal wrangles to be sorted out – and at last in late October 2015 – we get the first two physical fruitions – 1968's magisterial "Astral Weeks" and 1970's more approachable "His Band And The Street Choir" - both reissued by Warner Brothers in Gatefold Card Sleeves on 'Expanded Edition' CD Remasters and both pitched at mid-price. Here are the Gypsy Queens...

UK and USA released Friday, 30 October 2015 – "His Band And The Street Choir" by VAN MORRISON on Warner Brothers 081227952303 (Barcode 081227952303) plays out as follows (61:42 minutes):

1. Domino
2. Crazy Face
3. Give Me A Kiss
4. I've Been Working
5. Call Me Up In Dreamland
6. I'll Be Your Lover, Too
7. Blue Money [Side 2]
8. Virgo Clowns
9. Gypsy Queen
10. Sweet Janine
11. If I Ever Needed Someone
12. Street Choir
Tracks 1 to 12 are the album "His Band And The Street Choir” – released November 1970 in the USA on Warner Brothers WS 1884 and December 1970 in the UK on Warner Brothers WS 1844 (re-issued in the UK in August 1971 on Warner Brothers K 46066). All songs are written and produced by VAN MORRISON.

BONUS TRACKS (Previously Unreleased):
13. Call Me Up In Dreamland (Take 10) – 4:14 minutes
14. Give Me A Kiss (Take 3) – 2:33 minutes
15. Gypsy Queen (Take 3) – 4:13 minutes
16. I've Been Working (Alternate Version) – 4:26 minutes
17. I'll Be Your Lover, Too (Alternate Version) - 4:14 minutes

VAN MORRISON – Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica and Tenor Saxophone on "Crazy Face" and "Call Me Up In Dreamland"
JOHN PLATANIA – Lead and Rhythm Guitars and Mandolin
JACK SCHROER – Alto, Baritone, Soprano saxophone and Piano
KEITH JOHNSON – Trumpet and Organ
ALAN HAND – Piano and Organ
DAHAUD ELIAS SHAAR – Drums, Percussion, Bass Clarinet and Backing Vocals
THE STREET CHOIR – Ellen Schroer, Martha Velez, Janet Planet, David Shaw, Andy Robinson and Larry Goldsmith
EMILY HOUSTON, JUDY CLAY and JACKIE VERDELL – backing Vocals on "If I Ever Needed Someone"

This 2015 CD Reissue comes in a gatefold card sleeve (gold sticker on the outer shrinkwrap) - textured like the matt original American vinyl album cover with the word 'Stereo' centred at the top and the 'Seven Arts' Warner Brothers logo design on the rear cover. The rear artwork is as per the US original but has cleverly been altered to allow for the 'Bonus Tracks' to be placed in the same typeface alongside the text without looking odd (the new CD label also reflects the original issue in colour). The inner gatefold reproduces Janet Planet’s liner notes to the left and the collage of musicians involved in making the album to the right.

The 12-page booklet continues the theme of Master Tape Boxes that "Astral Weeks" has and shows the 'E.Q. Copy' of Side 1 as its cover. The texture of the pages is similar to the superb "Moondance: Deluxe Edition" of 2013 - recycled and woody - and contains new liner notes called "Street Choir, Sing Me The Song For The New Day" by CORY FRYE - an American Newspaper Editor and noted Musicologist. STEVE WOOLARD has produced the Reissue and CHRIS BELLMAN has carried out the Remaster at BERNIE GRUNDMAN MASTERING (the outer gold sticker declares it to be 'First Time Remastered' – has worked with Neil Young, Carole King and Alanis Morissette and been Grammy nominated). Including five bonus tracks (all outtakes) – the total playing time of 61:42 minutes is reasonably generous too. But all of that tasty aesthetics is as nothing to the glorious Audio...

Having had the occasional track remastered across the last 30 years or so (Japanese SHM-CDs and "Best Of" compilations) – it comes as something of a sonic shock to finally hear the 'whole album' sparkle. Like "Astral Weeks" - this thing sounds fabulous – really wonderful. All the instruments resonate and feel alive – the analogue warmth is very much intact and the happiness of Van’s headspace flows out of the playing and the short jaunty songs. This is a properly sweet sounding CD Remaster (well done to all involved).

Coming after the one-two sucker punch of "Astral Weeks" in 1968 and the crowd-pleasing chart-placing "Moondance" in early 1970 – November 1970's "His Band And The Street Choir" was bound to disappoint a tad and has therefore always had a 6 out of 10 rating amongst music historians. But for me this stunning new Audio Remaster and the genuinely useful/complimentary extras warrants a more appropriate 9 in the hindsight of 2015. Similar to the 2015 Expanded Remaster of "Astral Weeks" - there are hiss traces on "Crazy Face" and "I'll be Your Lover, Too" for sure - and I’m glad of that. None of the tracks sound compressed or dulled or tampered with for the sake of modern cleanliness - it's a careful transfer – yet alive - with the air circulating around the music.

The impact of this Remaster is absolutely immediate. The opening 15 seconds of "Domino" is just sensational – the band and the song cooking like never before. In December 1970 Warner Brothers USA and UK tried it as a 45 on WB 7434 with "Sweet Jannie" on the flipside and were rewarded with a No. 9 chart placing in the American charts (the album hit No. 32). "Crazy Face" has hiss at the outset but settles down and that warbling Van Morrison Saxophone solo sounds amazing. The jaunty pop of "Give Me A Kiss" is so pretty (the title for this review comes from the studio patter at the song's end) - but if I was to single out one song that shows just how good the transfer is - it would be the Soulful Acoustic Funk of "It's Been Working". Seems like I’ve been waiting 40 years (grinding so long) to hear this wicked little groover sound 'this good' - the clarity when he goes into that "...woman, woman, woman..." chant with the saxophones following is awesome. "Call Me Up In Dreamland" sounds just as good too and feels like a Moondance companion piece. But again the Audio on the Side 1 finisher "I'll Be Your Lover, Too" will knock fans sideways. As already mentioned it has hiss as the drummer soft-shoe-shuffles on the highhats – but those Acoustic flourishes and the sheer devotion of his Soulful vocal is why his singing sends chills up the spine. It's exquisite music as Frye quite rightly states in his excellent liner notes.

Side 2 opens with the fairly throwaway "Blue Money" – a poppy ditty that never really ignites for some reason. Far better is the beautifully produced "Virgo Clowns" – one of the album's true hidden nuggets where John Plantania's Mandolin playing compliments a simple and gorgeous acoustic guitar melody as Van sings "...let your laughter fill the room..." Just as pretty is "Gypsy Queen" while the B-side "Sweet Jannie" was another 'make everything alright' hit in the making. His spirituality and personal needs come pouring out of "If I Ever Needed Someone" where he implores (not for the first time) for 'someone to see me through'. He returns to Gospel for the album's lovely finisher "Street Choir" – the organ and ladies voices giving it a churchy feel (beautiful audio too).

The Bonus Material features five outtakes/alternate versions and for me makes this reissue a solid sender. A funky Bass run provides the lead in for Take 10 of "Call Me Up In Dreamland" offset against a faint girly chant in the background. Take 3 of "Give Me A Kiss" is beautifully recorded and has the joy quotient down pat – but Take 1, 2 and 3 of "Gypsy Queen" will thrill fans. It has witty 'spaceman' dialogue (in a Belfast accent) before Van finally gets all falsetto on the vocals and the band play a blinder –and although you can hear why the vocals got away from him - this is great stuff. But my crave is one of the final bonuses – "I've Been Working" – a track that turned up in long variants on the "Moondance" Deluxe and Super Deluxe Editions and goes back to the "Astral Weeks" period. This 'Alternate Version' is just as Funky as the shorter 3:26 minute album cut - but with more prominence given to the Organ and Saxophone solo. I love this and I suspect Mods will be spreading the Talcum Powder on this 4:26 minute extended winner...

Like "Astral Weeks" - it has taken nearly fifty bleeding years to show this forgotten Van Morrison album some proper respect – and when fans clap ears on this remaster – they’ll let out a sigh of relief that WB finally got it right.

"...Rescue you from the pain...see you smile again..." – Van The Man sings on "Virgo Clowns". Amen to that...

This review and hundreds more like it can be found in my SOUNDS GOOD Music Book Series - CLASSIC 1970's ROCK - Exceptional CD Remasters is available to buy/download at Amazon at the following link...

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