Van Morrison

Moondance [Expanded Edition]

(CD - Rhino / Warner Bros. #8122796384)

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This long-awaited remastered version of Van Morrison's best-selling album comes in a variety of formats. The expanded edition includes the album and a second disc that contains a compiler's "best-of" selection of unreleased session material with alternates and outtakes. There are 11 cuts here; eight are versions of album tracks. While none replace -- or are in any way superior to -- the ones Morrison eventually chose, they do make for fantastic listening. Check the nearly unhinged celebratory vocal in "Caravan," underscored by a more pronounced electric guitar and looser, freer horns; this is Morrison and his band in full groove mode. "Into the Mystic," by contrast, is so open it feels closer in spirit to the music on the Astral Weeks sessions. The fat bassline in "Glad Tidings" is on stun, but it contrasts beautifully with the piano offering bright, gorgeous, modal jazz chords and a gospelized horn section à la Stax. The title track is a solid jazz arrangement that sharply resembles readings that have been in his live set since the 1990s. The final two selections here are of particular interest. "I Shall Sing" is a previously unissued song. On the deluxe version of this set there are no less than 13 takes as well as a mono mix done after the album was delivered. It makes the case that Morrison desperately wanted to include it on Moondance. It's an excellent song, but it didn't belong in the delicate balance that was the final album. Its omission shows Morrison's keen, developed sense of discernment even at this early stage. The final cut is a very electric, early version of "I've Been Working." It clocks in at over ten minutes and showcases the band playing that massively funky vamp as a jump-off to improvisation -- Morrison gets into some wonderful in-the-moment lyric creation. Though it's an absolutely smoking way to finish this disc, it's also obvious why he didn't include it; it was unfinished. When contrasted with the version that appeared on His Band and the Street Choir, it underscores how definitively he knew what he wanted for Moondance. Also included in the package is a liner booklet with essays by Alan Light, engineer Elliot Scheiner, and the original notes by Janet Planet. While casual Morrison fans may appreciate the album's much improved sound quality and spring for the single disc, and the hardcore will no doubt snag the massive five-disc hardbound deluxe version, the middle-way expanded edition is arguably the best choice for most music fans.

blue highlight denotes track pick