Van Morrison | Astral Weeks (Warner Bros. Records, 1968)

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While we are not in our state of being home either, Astral Weeks becomes the tunnel in which we can see the light brilliantly and blindingly shining through.

Forty one years ago this month an album was being recorded in New York City, that when finished and released in November, the listening world would hardly know whether to clap or to sit in stunned silence. There was something 
about the delicate power and the force that was left on the recordings that hinted at sincere pain, all the while leaving broad traces of sheer uplifting beauty.
Van Morrison, at this point a twenty-three year old expatriated Northern Irishman living in Cambridge, MA, was able to write and record an album that was for all intents and purposes, daringly behind its time. Just as Morrison 
had been described as a “White Negro” due to his soulful singing style and various musical influences around this time, Astral Weeks was born a mystical mix of Celtic tradition, folk, jazz and blues, which was often described as 
“Celtic Soul”.
I describe Astral Weeks as being behind its time (and boldly so) because of Morrison’s musical progression up to 1968. His relative success at this point was due to his involvement with the band Them, and their Irish R&B pop 
sound, and then his first solo album which included the hit “Brown Eyed Girl”. It then took guided conviction and an inspired determination to move into a strongly acoustic sound, built upon the foundation of talented jazz 
musicians and given an airy narrative of Celtic like stream of consciousness poetry. This could be considered akin to looking at the well-worn path behind oneself and seeing something that had never been seen before.
It is impossible to wholly understand all the strengths of this album, but upon listening one knows that Morrison’s vocals are the point on which everything else revolves. Morrison, now famous for his singing style, was singing 
as few of his contemporaries were. The passion and soul intrinsic to his voice are utterly hypnotic and whether he is belting out lyrics about being born anew, or quietly murmuring about feeling a stranger in this world and 
returning to another land, one can’t help but be transfixed on the sincere confidence in which he sings.
Before I get to what Morrison sings about, I would be remiss if I did not point out the contribution of the other musicians. Richard Davis, an utter phenomenon on double bass, drives the music and opens it up through its manic 
curves and then comfortably slows it down during the gentle straightaways. Jay Berliner adds beautiful acoustic guitar that serves as a lilting counterpoint, in classical style at points and in a blues fashion at others, to 
Morrison’s vocals. Connie Kay on drums shines forth through the cracks left open, all the while being supremely in tune with the mood of the music, and never overplays; which takes immense maturity and confidence. John Payne on soprano saxophone and flute, and Warren Smith Jr. on vibraphone help give the album its musical transcendence, and coupled with strings and horns arranged by Larry Fallon, their additions suggests that heaven on earth may be indeed be possible.
The lyrical content fluctuates between the mystical and haunting, to the uplifting and immaculate nostalgia for a home that no longer exists. Though the lyrics are written in a poetic style of stream of consciousness narrative, 
they are to be taken seriously. As a song cycle, Astral Weeks seems to deal with the great Irish saga of leaving home in order to find it. With recollections of home in “Cyprus Avenue” and “Beside You” the home that once was, is 
now just a sweet memory that remains ever elusive. One senses that through Morrison’s singing, his journey for home is devastating yet necessary, gorgeous and obsessive. When it finally seems that the home Morrison is searching 
for, or more possibly the state of being home, no longer exists, the words from the title track seem to take on a holy air of prescience. While we are not in our state of being home either, Astral Weeks becomes the tunnel in 
which we can see the light brilliantly and blindingly shining through. | Andy Powell
“Ain’t nothing but a stranger in this world
I’m nothing but a stranger in this world
I got a home on high
In another land
So far away
So far away
Way up in the heaven
Way up in the heaven 
In another time
In another place
In another time
In another place”

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