on August 28, 2001
Everyone knows that Van Morrison first started his musical career as a blues-shouting frontman for the highly-underrated British rock band Them. It was during that time that Van wrote such rock standards as "Gloria" (sing it with me, everybody! G-L-O-R-I-A!) and "Mystic Eyes". When Them broke up, Van began a somewhat rudimentary solo career with the pop chestnut "Brown Eyed Girl", which even though it may be a little too pop for the now-very-deep-in-his-R&B-roots Van, it remains a rock classic. His follow-up ASTRAL WEEKS (1968) was one of the most enchanting pop albums ever recorded, and even though it had no hits, it is rightfully been considered as one of the best albums of any genre. For the follow-up, Van decided to venture back into his R&B and jazz roots with MOONDANCE (1970). The fact that it is so high on the Amazon Sales Rank (#399 as of this writing) sure is amazing, for even those people who are listening to artists who could be Van's grandchildren (he just turned 56) are realizing the magic that is MOONDANCE. The album is just as beautifully-executed as ASTRAL WEEKS, but it's less improvised & made of more songs than stream-of-consciousness exercises. The first side of MOONDANCE is made up of songs that are widely recognized outside of the context of the album, and are some of Van's best songs in a career filled with many. "And It Stoned Me" starts out automatically with a vocal from Van that is as restrained as ASTRAL WEEKS, but still rather soulful like he was in his Them days. This is the perfect song to listen to on a warm summer Sunday. And no, stoned doesn't have anything to do with marijuana, but something more metaphoric. Next is the title track that is by far in the top echelon of Van's classic songs. You'll immediately get the feeling of dancing with your sweetheart in the moonlit night, and who knows you may be making a track back to his house later on, if you know what I mean. It's the same with "Crazy Love" where the romanticism of this track is nothing less than intoxicating, and I'm sure one listen to this song will turn anyone to putty. An excellent wedding song, too. Those who listen on will get to the more uptempo (if you can call it that) "Caravan", which once again has Van in his soul-belter mode. But if you thought those four songs were well known & legendary, "Into The Mystic" almost steamrolls those songs in that respect. Articles have been written on this song alone, and while that may be overstating it, that only proves why this song is so loved, because "the mystic" could be just about anywhere for us. The closing line "It's too late to stop now" would inspire the title of Van's live album (1974). The second side is not very recognizable, but it does have some highlights. "Come Running" was the only song on this album to become a top 40 hit(!), and while it may seem a bit slight, it showed that AM radio may have been behind Van Morrison to some extent. "Brand New Day" is probably the most soulful of the bunch, with it having a hint of gospel as well. Maybe Sting was inspired by this song to create his own "Brand New Day". Those may be the best of side 2, but MOONDANCE as a whole is a well-deserved classic. Even if its commercial success was somewhat limited, it's made just about every critic's "Best Albums of All Time" list, so that may be some redemption. Even if Van Morrison retired after this album, his place in rock history would be assured, but 30 years later, he's still going strong releasing albums at a time in his life when most people would be resting on their awards. But while Van may continue to release some quality music well into his golden years, chances are MOONDANCE will still rank as one of the best albums of not only his career, but pop music too.
on July 31, 2002
Van Morrison's 1970 classic, Moondance, is the rarest of beasts, a wholly substantial and completely consistent rock album. Never on this spell-binding LP is there a clichéd or superficial lyric, a lazily-sung word, an unnecessary instrument in the accompaniment, an instance of fabricated artistic posturing and nowhere on Moondance is there a song that is not completely outstanding. Casual classic rock listeners are probably familiar with the dreamy "And It Stoned Me" and the jazzy title track, but none of these ten songs would sound out of place on a best-of collection. Even lesser known songs such as the bopping "These Dreams of You," the emotion-rendering "Brand New Day" and the simply breathtaking "Into the Mystic" are compositions strong enough to rival Lennon/McCartney. On Moondance, Mr. Morrison obviously reached a zenith of artistic maturity and focus. The album is a perfect ten.
on September 8, 2000
In the history of popular music, there are works which, no matter how old they are, no matter how many times you have heard them, they remain consistently fresh, innovative, inviting and entertaining. Moondance, by Van Morrison, deserves an honored place on that list.
I was listening to the WXRT here in Chicago the other day, and Lin Brehmer, the morning DJ, had just played the first cut on Moondance, "And It Stoned Me". The song ended, and Lin read the titles of the first five songs on the disc, then he said, "If that is not musical genius, I don't know what is". I think Lin hit the nail on the head.
Moondance is an excellent album. The songwriting and the arrangements combine to form a mood and a feeling that is so distinct, so ephereal and relaxing, you feel like you are in another time and place. Listen to the song Moondance on the radio, and you may tire of it soon. Listen to it in the context of this album, and you will understand that it was written by a young man who was writing about his time, his life, his relationships.
This album has been written about many times, by writers whose skills far outweigh mine. Let me just finish by saying that Moondance is a special album, filled with special music. Buy it, and it will be special for you, too.
on October 26, 2013
You wouldn't be reading this if you didn't think Moondance was a great album. So instead of reviewing the original music or the alternate takes, I'm going to focus on my perception of the sound quality and mix of the 2013 remastered cd, the 192kHz/24Bit high resolution blu-ray, the Japanese manufactured cd and the original North American cd. I don't have a surround processor so I can't comment on the 5.1 mix and I don't have an lp version to comment on either. I bought the Deluxe set specifically to get the high resolution blu-ray, hoping that it would provide the best audio quality.
First things first. The 2013 cd and blu-ray in the Deluxe set are not just a remastering (i.e. cleaner sound, with a little boosting here and there to improve the sound quality of bass and drums, or compression to increase overall volume levels). Both of these are also a remix of the music. This means that the placement of instruments in the soundstage is different, the relative prominence of some instruments/vocals is different and the amount of reverb/echo is different. Depending upon what you value, you may or may not like these changes or more likely, you may have a mixed reaction.
In terms of sound quality, the 192kHz/24Bit blu-ray is excellent. The music is very clean with no hard edges or distortion and instruments sound very realistic. The musical content is well balanced from bass through mid-range to treble. This is the best "audio sound" of any version. This is what I bought the Deluxe version for!
The 2013 cd for some reason sounds very different. The bass is very, very boosted. So much so, that while listening on a good audio system with full range speakers, my attention is drawn to the bass every time. As a result, the bass seems to overwhelm the music in the mid range and treble (acoustic guitars, vocals, cymbals etc). Overall, this makes the music sound muffled. I think the mid range and treble information is there, but the relative volume of bass overwhelms the music in the other ranges. A few other reviewers on here have commented on this and referred to it as sounding like a blanket was thrown over their speakers. This impression is exacerbated by the new mix which also reduces the prominence of horns and acoustic guitars. In contrast, on the new blu-ray the bass is always well balanced and clear. On the title song, Moondance, I've always "heard' the walking bass, but this is the first time I've clearly heard the exact pitch of each note.
I'll use Into the Mystic to illustrate the difference between the old mix and the new blu-ray version. (The new cd remix is similar to the blu-ray, but due to the amount of bass, "sounds" different). The original mix has some instruments placed very hard left or right. The horns for example on Into the Mystic are placed so far right, that they are almost exclusively in the right speaker. The horns also have a lot of reverb giving the impression that they are in a larger and different room then the rest of the band. The most noticeable change on the new mix is that the instruments are distributed better across the soundstage. Your attention is drawn more to the music and less distracted by the placement of the instruments. The low, reedy sounding "foghorn" is in the centre rather than hard right and the horns, while still on the right of the soundstage, don't sound like they're just in one speaker. There is much less reverb on the horns. This is all good.
Another noticeable change is that the horns are mixed lower. Van's voice is the central focus of the music, with less "competition" for attention from the horns, especially on the louder passages. The remix of the Band's Rock of Ages on the recently released Live at the Academy of Music 1971 makes a similar change in the new mix. Initially I found both unfamiliar. I've decided I like this choice on both releases, but it's very subjective and I can understand that some people will not like this change at all. This is especially noticeable on the last one minute of Caravan, when Van is doing the lead "la la la la la" vocals and also backing himself. You can hear the various vocal parts in his backing chorus more distinctly, but the horns don't contribute as much rhythmic punch.
The remastered sound of acoustic guitars sounds very good in the new versions. They are however lower in the new mix. As with the horns, little guitar licks don't pop out as much in the new mix. This is OK on the quieter passages at the beginning of Into the Mystic for example, but as the song progresses, especially in the last 30 seconds or so, I miss the hard driving rhythmic strumming that engages in a sort of call and response with the horns.
One final comment on Into the Mystic. The new mix has a very noticeable tambourine. I like it, but I've never heard it on a previous cd version. I don't know whether it was on the original lp. I assume, it's another example of the change in instrumental balance in the new remix.
A quick comment about the Japanese cd release. It's not really a remaster. I think some processing was added during the transfer process to boost the midrange and treble across the board, but I wouldn't say it was "remastered" with a remastering engineer, producer or artist making aesthetic choices about the sound. It mostly sounds like the North American cd, but with a bit more boost in some frequencies. It sounds fine, but I wouldn't recommend going out of your way buy it.
On the whole, I'm very happy with the high resolution blu-ray, including the new mix. I'd have preferred it if it had been made available in a 3 disc version (1 remastered cd, 1 disc of outtakes and the high resolution blu-ray).
I almost forgot to mention the blu-ray menu. When you insert the blu-ray it into your player, there's no automatic pop up menu to choose the 5.1 mix or the stereo. The 5.1 mix automatically starts playing even if you just have a stereo system. You'll have to use the "audio" button on your remote to find the menu if you want to play the stereo mix.
on October 22, 2013
The reason that I passed on the deluxe box set is that it felt like there would be too many goods chasing too few dollars. However, I felt entitled to some extra goodies and the second disc of alternate versions and outtakes gives a fuller sense of how a classic album came to fruition. Nothing smacks of bottom-of-the-barrel quality. For instance, "Caravan" and "Glad Tidings" do offer glimpses of his creative process. "Moondance" (Take 22), fluteless and in a different key, is even jazzier than the standard release. But the biggest standout is his jumpy version of "I Shall Sing" (Take 7), originally released commercially by Art Garfunkel. And, just like his 1989 classic "Have I Told You Lately", later done by Rod Stewart, Van has always been his own aptest interpreter. Also of interest is an early attempt (Take 5) of "I've Been Working" done as a long blues. He'd later define it on "His Band and the Street Choir", but it's a fine work-in-progress here.
But what really seals the deal is the newly remastered original album itself. Using my original 1990 CD copy as a direct comparison, the strides in audio technology make it much brighter without losing an iota of its dynamic range. The acoustic guitars and saxophones on "Caravan" and "Into the Mystic" have never sounded this vibrant before. There's also that fullness and warmth that I haven't heard since it was on vinyl. Even after 43 years, I marvel at his meticulous songwriting and self-production and they still have that ambience that anybody can connect to.
Despite Van's furious dismissal of this release, I have no problem ponying up the dough for this 2-CD edition. This is one of the greatest albums ever made and it's on this record that Van prodded the essence of his band and he succeeded tremendously in bringing his soul-band fantasy into reality.
P.S. I specifically reviewed the Expanded 2-CD version, however, it shows that I also reviewed it under the link to the Deluxe 4-CD/1 Blu-Ray version too. It's a glitch that Amazon hasn't rectified.
on November 16, 2000
I guess if you going to own only one Van Morrision album you probably could get the excellent "Best of Van Morrision" first. It includes a great sampling from all his work, even including some classic cuts from his early songs with "Them". Of course after you get "Best of" you won't be satisfied to own one Van Morrision album, so maybe you should just start with this ... HIS BEST ALBUM.
Moondance really belongs in every music collection. It is a classic album, but even more then that it is a TIMELESS classic. The music transcends labeling as to it's musical style. What is it ... Rock, R&B, Jazz, or Folk? The answer is that contains the best of all these styles and a little mystical something besides. The album is now 30 years old and yet it sounds like nothing from that time, or anything since. The greatest thing is that its lyrics and musical production is so uplifting and very soulful. This is music that makes you feel good and reflective at the same time! No Death and Destruction themes here, sorry Punk/Metalheads you need not apply. On a scale of 1 - 1,000,000 ..... I give it a 5 ... meaning it's one of the top 5 albums of all time!
on November 4, 2008
Having eagerly awaited the release of these as remasters, I quickly purchased the 3 classic Van albums , Astral Weeks, Moondance , & His Band & Streetchoir in their new Japanese remastered format . I was slightly disappointed with the results as they are only marginally better then the domestic titles we have had for years. I wonder if they were remastered from first generation Master Tapes or simply a new reworking of the same old masters. there is no mention in the liner notes of having been redone by any person, the only place you will see mention of any remastering is in the Obi strip along the side . My advice would be to hold off on these and see what else comes unless you are a devote Van fan that perhaps the slight improvement is worth it for you
on February 22, 2001
Simply put, Moondance by Van Morrison is one of my all-time favorite albums. Although I have owned it for years, I still enjoy listening to it on a regular basis, it is that good. There is not a weak song on this album.
There are many Van Morrison songs on this album that most will recognize like "It Stoned Me", "Moondance", and "Crazy Love", and it also includes other great tracks that may be less familiar like "Glad Tidings", "Caravan", and "Into the Mystic". All the songs fit well together, and make for a great collection of Van's earlier material.
I highly recommend this album to any Van Morrison fan who does not already own it. If you do not own any Van Morrison albums (you should be ashamed if you don't), then buy this one. It is a great album to discover one of Ireland's best talents.
on December 9, 1999
This is an absolutely awe-inspiring album, one of those rare feats in which every element comes together to create a true whole that is greater than the sum of all its parts.
There is not a bad or "filler" song in this collection. While all inspire images of great delight, there is to me nothing quite like the experience of "Into the Mystic". The lyrics, the vocal delivery, and the arrangement, which in and of itself evokes great longing. It is one of the most beautiful recorded performances I have ever heard--sublime, ethereal, and unfulfilled all at the same time. If you haven't heard this, believe me, you have missed something truly wonderful. Its use in the film "Immediate Family" (with Glenn Close and Mary Stuart Masterson dancing to it) alone makes it worth seeing.
For dreamers, seekers (of anything), and music lovers, this album is absolutely required.
on June 27, 2008
The good news?
20+ years after their debut on CD, FINALLY, there are full remasters of Moondance,Street Choir and Astral Weeks.
The bad news?
They're not available domestically from Warner Music Group USA: All three were released in June 2008 by Warner in Japan only, and Amazon is FINALLY getting around to stocking them.
The catalog numbers for the three Japan Warner remasters are WPCR-75419, -20 and -21, which streeted in Japan on 6/25/08. Be sure that you use the links I have provided above, as Warner Japan has previously released non-remastered versions of all three titles, and you don't want to make an expensive mistake.
These classic albums, which we have all waited so long to be brought properly into the digital world, now, unfortunately, join fellow Warner artists such as Little Feat, The Doobie Brothers, Neil Young, Ry Cooder, Tower Of Power, Cold Blood and several others, whose remastered catalogs are only available off-shore.
The responsibility for this is ultimately Edgar Bronfman, Jr., the CEO of WMG USA. Instead of focusing on WMG's core music catalog, he's busy extolling the virtues of consumer-oppressive DRM, over-paying P-Diddy tens of millions of dollars, and this week, revealed as losing another $30 million of WMG funds in promoter Joe Meli's mad scheme to charge $15,000 per person to attend a swank, exclusive, five-act concert series in the Hamptons. These are only a few of many excesses this guy has perpetrated at WMG, presiding over a spectacular loss of investor equity since the 2005 WMG IPO, while he and his investors have lined their own pockets.
This year, Universal is staging a 28-title Van Morrison catalog re-release, all remastered with bonus tracks. You'd think SOMEBODY at WMG would be smart enough to pilot-fish that momentum with these three seminal titles. At the very least, how hard can it be to obtain the existing, completed remasters from a Japan subsidiary and make them available in the U.S.?
All of this is no surprise to WMG, or ex-WEA, insiders. Internally, Warner policy was always that the majority of consumers were going purchase popular catalog titles anyway, so why waste profits to remaster them? WEA sales employees were told this directly by Warner management as far back as the early 90's, and Bronfman's regime simply status-quo'd that odious philosophy.
This is what happens when bean-counters run record companies.
But, I guess Edgar & Co, too preoccupied with moguling the mess they've made of a once-great record company, can't see the opportunity: As of this writing, no WMG act has any major position on the charts, and artists, alienated by WMG's all-finance-dominated mentality, are departing for pastures where music still has some modicum of corporate consideration.
What a waste.
WMG could borrow a page from Sony, who established a successful business model out of sonically-upgrading their catalog over a decade ago. The only major Columbia Records artist that comes to mind, whose catalog hasn't been remastered, is Springsteen... and you have to believe that's not by Sony's choice.
Bottom line, Edgar? If you don't believe there's no positive revenue to be generated by offering a better product, then you've no business being in that business.