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I Lost It At the Movies
on March 29, 2011
I always tend to think of Van Morrison as the King of Quirk, but this record serves as a reminder that he's at least commercial enough to become something of a staple on movie soundtracks. And no, I haven't seen half the movies referenced on VAN MORRISON AT THE MOVIES--haven't even heard of some of 'em--but no matter. Point is, filmmakers know that Van has something that resonates with audiences. Besides this collection works on its own terms, and pretty much winds up making its own mental movie. It's hard to think of anyone whose music is more "cinematic" in its scope and imagery. He's always played on my own personal interior soundtrack anyway--even when I couldn't always follow the plot.
But why this collection over other anthologies or "best of" packages? Well, as others have stressed, this one's worth it (and for some fans will be absolutely essential) if only for the live versions of "Brown Eyed Girl" and "Moondance," which don't necessarily eclipse the well known originals, but do add new dimensions to them. Also among the live tracks are the riveting take on "Caravan" from THE LAST WALTZ) AND the closer, "Comfortably Numb" from the 1991 Berlin production of THE WALL. The former is just sheer magic. I remember seeing that movie and just gaping at what I was witnessing on that screen. I've never seen anybody that ON before.
As for "Comfortably Numb," that track is officially a duet with Roger Waters, of course--and it is Waters' song--but Van's impassioned vocal breathes new life into what was rapidly becoming a countercultural warhorse. We'd had the original album, the movie and a decade and a half of hearing it on Classic Rock Radio. Waters probably couldn't pass up to perform THE WALL in post-Cold War Berlin, but bringing in the guest artists was probably a must by that point. And including Van the Man was an inspired choice. When the song opens, Roger's doing his standard remote ironic thing. The exciting new element is Van's (relatively)quiet fire vocal. I know guitar enthusiasts also get excieted about the contributions of guest guitarists Snowy White and Rick DiFonzo, and yeah, they provide some exciting moments.
But it's Van's presence that (re)defines the song.
The classic Morrison R&B numbers are almost exactly what you'd expect: "Gloria," and "Baby Please Don't Go" from the the Them era. "Domino," "Jackie Wilson Said," "Real Real Gone," (the song which proved Van knew what EVERYBODY said, and not just Jackie Wilson). They're great, but so are the ballads: I just read, while googling about the other day, that "Queen of the Slipstream" was a favorite song of the late Farrah Fawcett and was featured in a documentary about her facing cancer. I don't know why, but for some reason I found that touching. I hope it brought her real comfort. In fact, I'm sure it did. The guy's got the touch.
I could go on about the individual tracks. But mainly, I love this record just for the sequencing, one where flow is much more important that mere chronology (just like in concert, yeah). If you're old fashioned enough to listen to CD's straight through, you'll find it holds together beautifully.
'Course it's not so bad on random select either. And I don't imagine you downloaders will be too unhappy with just the occasional individual track. But it appears Van and crew put real thought into this collection. You'll see some of these songs in a new light--even if you didn't see the movie.