On the off chance you need a birthday or Christmas gift idea (they conveniently converge for me), the live recording from Van Morrison’s concert this week is a great one. Prompted by the (incredbily slow) buildup of popularity, Morrison will be at the Hollywood Bowl the 7, 8 and 9 of November reprising the album live with the original players.
Astral Weeks is by far my favorite Morrison album; from the titular track, with its crisp autumn-like tension, to the full tumble of ‘Sweet Thing’ and the electrical swirls on ‘Ballerina’, Astral Weeks is also an album I rarely listen to broken apart into songs. As Sean O’Hagan for The Guardianput it,
Astral Weeks is that rare thing in pop music, an album that lives up to its own legend. Its singularity lies, as Costello points out, in its vaulting ambition. It is neither folk nor jazz nor blues, though there are traces of all three in the music and in Morrison’s raw and emotionally charged singing. There are no solos save for the ethereal flute and soprano saxophone improvisations that are woven through the last, and shortest, song, ‘Slim Slow Slider’, the album’s elegaic coda. Throughout, there are interludes of breathtaking beauty when the music surges and subsides, rises and falls, around Morrison’s voice.
It may not be the best album ever made – even I admit a preferance for Morrison’s earlier take of ‘Madame George’ (released on the New York Sessions ’67 album) – but every time I listen to it, it takes me to one of the most blissfully impressionistic places I can imagine.
If you started listening to the music in this collection on the day you were born, and listened every minute of every day, by the time you finished, you’d be 57 years old. That’s a lot of music. And it’s a lot of history.
Agreed. Make one wonder how a place of higher education, like Miami University, can drop millions into expansion and construction, but apparently can’t consider the historic preservation of this music collection and the enrichment it would bring to the public. In my head, I keep returning to what Mawhinney said in the documentary about how the Library of Congress had assessed that of Mawhinney’s recordings from 1948 through 1966 only 17 per cent of that music is available to the public currently. Incredible. That means, roughly, that 83 of every 100 songs recorded in those twenty years isn’t/can’t be listened to anymore. In a discursive sense, it illuminates how the vast majority of those chords, harmonies, rhythms, expressions, behaviors and opinions committed to record–and given quite a chance to circulate–never make it in the end. What facet of life did they reflect and reveal, narrate and question? For Americans, just like our appetite for the easy, lifeless mp3, our sonic genealogies are compressed, reduced, and commodified.
I forgot to post this, but I bought Nina Simone’s ‘Protest Anthology’ album from iTunes just the other day. The album is an incredible collection of bootleg and rare recordings such as Mississippi Goddamn, Four Women, Strange Fruit, and Backlash Blues with short audio interviews preceding each song. It comes with an eight minute video of live performances of Revolution and Strange Fruit as well as a video interview with Simone about her ideas of art, artists, and how they interact with social change. Some of the sound quality is pretty bad; the recording of ‘Why The King Of Love Is Dead’ is inaudible at some places and sounds as though someone placed a microphone by a wind tunnel, but its included in this anthology for the simple reason that its overwhelmingly powerful and vulnerable.
Nina Simone has been an incredible influence on both my musical tastes and personal identity. The deep colors of voice, and the humble voyeuristic emotions about her musical activism resonate so much throughout my adolescence. Her version of ‘Feelin Good’ was with me when I was coming out, and today it still makes me skin electric just to hear her build up that particular joy of emergence thats so reflective of her life.
I’m so happy this LP was released. It provides an intimate listen and discussion with a woman who infused her artistic abilities with the rage and grace of the timely politics going on around her. The many frustrations and inequalities within the world only moved her to make something beautiful from it. That is her voice; distinct, crass and always with a smoky elegance.