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Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man

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The Primordial Soul Of Van Morrison
Friday, November 11, 2011
 

It's difficult to consider Van Morrison strictly as a singer. That's to say a singer in the same way that Sinatra was a singer, or Nat King Cole was a singer, or Johnny Hartman was a singer, or even the way that Joe Williams or Eddie Jefferson were singers. But aside from Ray Charles, Van Morrison was simply the very first vocalist that my ears had ever heard who simply emoted. And to make that even more substantial, he was white, and Irish. In his early days, Morrison snarled, spit, stomped, and sneered more than he ever actually sang. He injected his songs with unadulterated emotion, and the end result was raw, commanding, soulful and completely mesmerizing. 


When Morrison was leading his group, Them, the combo worked as the house band at the infamous Maritime Hotel in Belfast, Ireland, a gritty dance hall that was home to working class toughs. The band's residency at the hall proved to be a fortuitous workshop for the songwriter, performing night after night on the same stage, in the same room, in front of a growing and appreciative audience of regulars who welcomed his group of angry young men. The comfort of this setting allowed Morrison and his band to freely woodshed in an atmosphere that provided them not only with the artistic leeway to stretch the boundaries of their live performances, but also to receive immediate feedback on those experiments from an audience that fully supported their excursions. Frequently working without a net - no defined set list, no restrictions, no expectations - Morrison and the band often improvised, feeding off the energy of the moment and the tenor of the crowd. Essentially, they achieved the equivalent of musically painting on an open, empty canvas, and what young, aspiring, working artist wouldn't appreciate that luxury?


This is where the songwriter that we've come to call, the 'Belfast Cowboy' first developed his stream-of-conscience approach to lyrical content - a technique not as simple as it may at first seem. When he later embarked on his solo career here in America, he began expanding on these free association narratives - ruminations that seemed to spring from somewhere deep within his inner most psyche. This new technique added to the expressiveness of his vocalization, and signaled the beginnings of his own brand of unconventional poetry. Songs like 'Who Drove The Red Sports Car,' 'Beside You,' 'T.B. Sheets,' 'The Back Room' and 'Madame George' are all highly personal and symbolic reflections that showcase his newfound voice. The lyrical content of those songs may not entirely make sense to us as third party observers, but then, the experiential window that Morrison provides us is intended to be from the perspective of our standing outside looking in. As Morrison continued to grow as a songwriter however, he perfected this approach, now shifting the viewpoint to us now being allowed on the inside looking out. Simultaneously, his narratives became something closer to meditations, or personal confessions. They were, and still remain very powerful tomes, and plenty soulful too. In fact as time when on, his approach even developed into its own genre - 'Caledonia Soul.' Unlike blue-eyed soul, this was a classification applicable only to Morrison himself. One that was not only deep, artistic, heartfelt and expressive, but extremely sensitive and transcendental as well. Beginning with the two sets of music that are offered below, you'll hear the genesis of Morrison's, 'Caledonia Soul,' drawing from his very early work with the group, Them, and his first solo outings recorded for Bang Records in 1968. Then in the weeks to follow, we'll explore Morrison's development and spiritual journey as he ventured further into the mystic.



'Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, Vol.1'
 

1) Mighty Like A Rose
2) One Two Brown Eyes
3) Could You, Would You
4) Send Your Mind
5) Don't Look Back
6) I Can Only Give You Everything
7) Call My Name
8) One More Time
9) Here Comes The Night

 10) My Lonely Sad Eyes
11) The Story Of Them
12) Beside You
13) The Back Room
 

14) Chick-A-Boom
15) Hey Girl
16) Philosophy
17) Baby, Please Don't Go
18) Ro-Ro-Rosey
19) T.B. Sheets

'Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, Vol.2'

1) Stormy Monday
2) Who Drove The Red Sports Car
3) Brown Eyed Girl
4) Gloria
5) Friday's Child
6) Little Girl
7) If You And I Could Be As Two
8) It's Alright
9) Spanish Rose
10) The Smile You Smile
11) Baby, What You Want Me To Do
12) Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye)
13) Mystic Eyes
14) Joe Harper Saturday Morning
15) It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
16) Richard Cory
17) Midnight Special
18) He Ain't Give You None
19) Madame George



Source material for 'Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, Vols.1&2' comes from the following:
Van Morrison/Bang Masters (1991) 

Them/The Story Of Them (1997)



13 comments :

yotte said...

Thanks Miles! I've never delved into Morrison's earliest. This looks like a great place to start.

The Basement Rug said...

this is gonna be so good. I was always a huge fan of Them and the early days of Morrison's solo work. Some of his recent albums have been quite outstanding as well.

Johnny Pierre said...

Van has always been my favorite singer, primarily because at a young age I fell in love with his style of vocal phrasing. It always reminded me of how a horn player phrases his lines (which is probably because Van was a sax player before he became a singer).

Unknown said...

Hey man, it's Cal.
Dude, your blog is awesome. I am going start with vmorrison and work backwards. Im particularly excited to get to your collection of Sun Ra.

Keep it up amigo, this site is a treasure, thanks for sharing!
-Cal

Leon said...

Right ON man, this is going to be fun. I have almost every note Van has ever recorded, with the exception of some of this early stuff, which is oddly hard to find. So this will be a real treat.

Thanks too for the essay. Good writing.

BillyG said...

Brilliant- soundtrack to my weekend.

Jeff Gee said...

Hey-- coupla a HIDDEN BONUS TRACKS in the first mix! "Here Comes the Night" and "The Back Room," and thanks for both of 'em. (I figured if there was going to be a hidden track it was going to be "Ring Worm.")

Miles said...

Jeff...

Thanks for pointing out my oversight in the track listing. Yeah, 'Here Comes The Night' and 'The Back Room' are stuck in there. How could they not? Both are essential, wouldn't you say?

Jeff Gee said...

Sure. Although it's kind of weird listening to "The Back Room," which was the last song on side one of my old 'Best of Van Morrison' LP, and not having to get up and turn over the record.

Anonymous said...

It's been a while since I spent a lot of time listening to Van Morrison...I almost forgot how good he is! Thanks Miles!--Bill

twofthrs said...

Nice job. Love VM, early and late, in the middle too.

Eric said...

Great to listen to the early work of Van the Man. What a voice!

Thanks for putting this collection together. I hope you will be able to do something similar with the later parts of Van's catalogue.

Miles said...

Eric...

Thanks for your interest. I plan to, but all things in time.