What happens when a hotly anticipated new release comes out by an artist . . . and the artist encourages you not to buy it?
Such a rare occurrence is usually due to the artist’s belief that the material is either inferior, not in final form, bootlegged, or has fallen into the clutches of an evil musical overlord via some less-than scrupulous Byzantine law of recording contracts. But with the recent expanded reissue of Van Morrison’s classic 1970 disc, Moondance (available in single and double-CD formats, plus a four CD/one Blu-ray version), none of that seems to be the case. Enter classic rock’s greatest curmudgeon.
“I do not endorse this,” Morrison wrote about the new versions of Moondance on his website, as reported by Rolling Stone. “My management company at that time gave this music away 42 years ago, and now I feel as though it’s been stolen from me again.”
The magazine also reported that Morrison has rejected many balloons floated in the past about a Moondance expanded reissue, or even a career-spanning box set.
Most fans, though, won’t care one bit about artist vs. record company financial or contractual quibblings. They’ll be happy to have not only a remastered version of the classic album, but all those demos, unreleased tracks, and alternate takes that are the main attraction for buyers of classic-rock reissues across the board.
The album is arguably both Morrison’s commercial and artistic high. More than half of the record’s 10 tracks are among Van the Man’s best known and loved: “And It Stoned Me,” “Crazy Love,” “Caravan,” “Into the Mystic,” “Come Running,” and the title track. And even the remainder have little fat on them from the walking bass country/jazzish “These Dreams of You” to the strong acoustic “Everyone” and the funky “Glad Tidings.”
They all sound amazing here, especially as the remaster brings out the bass, horns (from Jack Schroer and Collin Tilton), and even tambourine sizzles of “Into the Mystic.”
Of the second CD, none of the alternate versions trump the pick that made it onto the actual record — save, ironically for “Brand New Day.” It’s the weakest track, and could have benefited from the alternate, more soulful version. But it’s interesting to hear “Caravan” buoyed with sweet electric guitar licks and more sax, or discovering just how important the horns are to making “Into the Mystic” a killer once you’ve heard the song bereft of them. An alternate take of the title track sounds like it came right from Harry Connick Jr./Michael Bublé-ville. And the disc two version of “Come Running” could have been on a Delaney and Bonnie record.
Outtakes include a pedestrian version of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” the hot James Brown–meets-Electric-Flag–like “I’ve Been Working” (the song would appear on His Band and the Street Choir), and the incredibly vibrant but unreleased Latin-tinged “I Shall Sing” (later a hit for Art Garfunkel).
England’s fine music magazine Mojo regularly asks artists to name their favorite Saturday night and Sunday morning records. Moondance definitely qualifies as a choice for the latter. Even if this version won’t be welcome in its creator’s own home.
The reissue of Moondance is out now on Rhino, should you wish to purchase it against Van’s wishes.