Van Morrison

Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast

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This is as curious a live album as exists in Van Morrison's voluminous catalog. It's a homecoming record in many ways, since Morrison went back home to live in Ireland shortly after this was released, after many years in the United States. Recorded in 1983 and released on Mercury in 1984, this is, in reality, a solid presentation of his "spiritual Celtic soul" period that began with 1979's Into the Music and would continue into the early '90s. Only the very beginning of the introduction contains anything from his much-celebrated early-'70s period. "Into the Mystic" is used as a calling card for what is to come in this recording, because it lasts just over 45 seconds -- the rest of that intro is the title track of 1983's Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, an album he was touring to support (it was his final offering for Warner Bros.). The Grand Opera House set is compiled form two nights of performances. The band here is stellar and includes Pee Wee Ellis on saxophones, Mark Isham on trumpet and synthesizers, and drummers Peter Van Hooke and Tom Donlinger, just to mention a few. Five of these cuts -- "She Gives Me Religion," "Beautiful Vision," "Vanlose Stairway," "Northern Muse," and set closer "Cleaning Windows" -- come from the vastly underrated Beautiful Vision album, and the rest from Common One, Into the Music, and Inarticulate Speech of the Heart. The performance is perfect. And if there's a problem with this set, that's it. Many bootlegs from the period exist, and there is a certain nearly off-the-rails feeling in them that Morrison -- as the perfectionist producer he is -- couldn't resist getting rid of here. It's a bit maddening, really, simply because while this flows seamlessly from top to bottom just as Morrison's studio albums do, there is none of the spontaneity of his earlier gigs or even his later recordings with Georgie Fame, Lonnie Donegan, the Chieftains, or Linda Lewis. The only places one hears Morrison as a soul shouter here is on "Vanlose Stairway," where he lets out a scream and plays off the trio of female backing vocalists, and on the final tracks where the bandmembers loosen up and allow the dirt to get under their fingernails a bit -- especially on "Vanlose Stairway" and "Cleaning Windows." Would that there were more. Still, for those who can't get enough of Morrison from the period, this will be a welcome addition to the shelf.

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