It’s a different beast to “Astral Weeks”, true, but “Moondance” is a joyful and far more accessible offering than Van Morrison’s first landmark album.
One of the things I’m fast learning as I work through this list is that sometimes, even on great albums, well, sometimes you have to work for it – I loved Bitches Brew, sure, but it took a few listens to sink into. And I still haven’t got around to revisiting Trout Mask Replica (call it PTSD).
So, coming across an album like “Moondance”, one I’d never heard before and, “Caravan” aside, I really didn’t know much of, and finding myself immersed in it within a few tracks, well that was a treat.
“Moondance” of course, is Van Morrison’s follow-up to the epic, if ethereal, “Astral Weeks”. But while this album retains Morrison’s lyrical charisma and soul, it’s a much richer and refined sound, filled with guitars, horns, and even a sense of pop.
The opening track, the haunting “And it Stoned Me”, sets the tone for the album, creating a snapshot of adolescent days that combines emotion and story expertly. The title track that follows is more playful but filled with jazz sensibilities, and the third track, the wistful “Crazy Love”, was an instant hit that inspired a popular cover by Helen Reddy.
“Caravan” was the track I was probably most familiar with before visiting this album, and it’s always been a favourite of mine. I first discovered it in an old episode of The West Wing, and it’s always felt comforting, a perfect track for sunny weekends when you’ve got nothing to do and want to play loud and relax. The live version on “The Last Waltz” is really worth checking out too.
“Into the Mystic” is almost certainly the highlight of the album, even if picking out one track from the mix is a bit unfair. It’s a track that evokes the dreaminess that defined “Astral Weeks” but brings a rich mix of vocal highs and horn backgrounds to create something truly captivating. True, lines like “I want to rock your gypsy soul…” sound slightly awkward, but when you’re listening, you really don’t care.
Side B of the album kicks off with the joyful “Come Running” and that sense of euphoria stays even for more folky tracks like “These Dreams of You” and “Brand New Day”. By the time the album starts to close with “Everyone” and the wonderful “Glad Tidings”, you’re left feeling part of something warm and even special.
“Astral Weeks” might well stand as Morrison’s creative high, but “Moondance” is the album that’s going to be best remembered fondly for a long time.