For an artist's most devout fans, a peek at the sketches can speak volumes about the final canvas, and that's the merit behind this two-CD compilation of shelf tracks and alternate takes from Van Morrison's 1971-1988 studio output. The Philosopher's Stone
favors his core instincts as a blues-based writer and arranger, its 30 songs dominated by shuffles and slow-burning blues with excursions into more gospel-lined melodies and some ripe experiments in funk. Collectors will welcome pristine versions of "Crazy Jane on God," the churning "Naked in the Jungle," an ebullient "Madame Joy," and several pieces exploring extended falsetto vocals, including "Twilight Zone" and "Try for Sleep," the latter being one of four tracks featuring Mark Isham on trumpet. New versions of "Real Real Gone" and "Wonderful Remark," however, confirm the wisdom of the artist's original release choices. --Sam Sutherland
It's a more-than-welcome blast from the past: 30 outtakes and first drafts (26 of them previously unheard) from 1971 to '88, when the R&B shouter-cum-Celtic seer could summon magic with a single growl.
There are a few false starts and toss-offs, but not many; The Philosopher's Stone evokes Dylan, many of whose best songs have dribbled out years after they were cut. God knows why Morrison held some of this stuff back. -- Entertainment Weekly
The Irish singer's soulfulness permeates this rarities-packed double album of 30 tracks (26 of them previously unreleased) recorded from 1971-88. Morrison shines in a tangy "Real Real Gone" and "High Spirits," a lively collaboration with the Chieftains. The resentment in "Drumshanbo Hustle," a prickly slam at the music business, adds a bracing edge to Morrison's vocals. -- USA Today