Posted: October 3rd, 2008
When Astral Weeks was released in 1969, very few people got it. When I bought the record from a friend 13 years ago, I didn’t really get it either. In fact I wanted my money back. My friend promised that the album would grow on me if I’d just give it a few more spins. By the third listen, Astral Weeks had completely overwhelmed me with its raw emotional beauty. It has since ingrained itself deeply into my musical identity.
There really isn’t anything else quite like Astral Weeks â€” it was unprecedented when it came out and nothing has compared to it since. Even Van Morrison, for all his creative powers, never topped this early peak (although 1974’s Veedon Fleece comes close). Nothing written on Astral Weeks can ever truly capture its essence — the music speaks for itself. That said, writing about the album feels like one of the hardest things I could possibly do. Rather than try to rally my best adjectives and sing the album’s praises, I will avoid the standard drivel and, as Van sings, “venture in the slipstream.”
Astral Weeks was recorded in a marathon New York session in less than 48 hours. It was reported in Rolling Stone that one man saw God while listening to the record on nitrous oxide. Bassist Richard Davis and drummer Connie Kay, two of the tallest giants of jazz rhythm, walked away from the Astral Weeks sessions scratching their heads in bewildered wonder at the strange music they had just recorded. Jimi Hendrix sat transfixed night after night as Van and flautist John Payne performed songs from the album to row after row of empty seats in a London theater.
The album has since become a cultish oracle of obsession for many: “Sweet Thing” was revived by the Waterboys on Fisherman’s Blues; “The Way That Young Lovers Do” is sung passionately by the late Jeff Buckley on his now-out-of-print Live At The Sin-E. Explaination: Lush flutes, vibes, bass and violins swirl around the gospel-soul of Van’s gut-wrenching poetry songs. Astral Weeks points in four directions â€” Dylan Thomas, Charles Mingus, Igor Stravinsky, and Ray Charles â€” with Van’s voice a pulling, powerful, constant magnetic North.
Here it is… astral music to set your inner compass by.
- Richard Davis – Bass
- John Payne – Flute, Sax (Soprano)
- Jay Berliner – Guitar
- Connie Kay – Drums
- Larry Fallon – Arranger
- Van Morrison – Guitar, Keyboards, Saxophone, Vocals
- Warren Smith – Percussion, Vibraphone
- Astral Weeks
- Beside You
- Sweet Thing
- Cyprus Avenue
- Way Young Lovers Do, The
- Madame George
- Slim Slow Slider
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