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Echoes of Van's best

Van Morrison - At the Movies: Soundtrack Hits
(Manhattan Records)
3 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: June 8, 2007
Van Morrison

Review by John Halverson

Van Morrison always wanted to be a little more famous and a little more rich than he has become. That a man can complain when he does have fame, and a loyal following of true aficionados, is only a reflection of his complex and often tortured nature. It is, however, that struggle that has informed much of his music and made him one of the true, lasting icons of quality rock, blues and soul. The last few years, however, have not been kind. As always Van has experimented in different musical genres and styles-country on Pay the Devil, middle-of-the-road on Magic Times. While his experiments were once wild forays into unconquered territories they now have the melancholy of a talent gone dry.

I miss most the 1970s, when his talent had aged to perfection, balanced between pop accessibility and raw, rabid soulfulness-an incandescent mix of craft and energy. But, perhaps, fueled by his personal demons and, God forbid, a loss of talent, his latest albums only make us ache for days gone by. It is not surprising that his album-a-year habit has now disintegrated into a greatest hits medley-Van Morrison at the Movies: Soundtrack Hits reviewed here, and the soon-to-be-released Best of Van Morrison Volume 3

On Van at the Movies you can hear original Top 40 versions of "Gloria" and "Brown Eyed Girl." The voice is young and pure in "Brown Eyed Girl." "Gloria" has an Eric Burdon-like grit as though Van were rehearsing for the growl and grizzle of his blues-tinged albums of a decade or two later. You can roll with his day trips into genres like "Irish Heartbeat" and make note of songs like "Wild Night" and "Have I Told You Lately," wonderful compositions, that were made more famous by the likes of John Mellancamp and Rod Stewart-good rockers, but ultimately seedlings fallen from the Morrison tree. You can groove on the smooth jazz of "Moondance" (a particularly skilled version from a live album). You can smile at the seemingly forced optimism of fun songs like "Days Like This" and "Bright Side of the Road"-when, it seems, Van was trying to romance the gods in hopes of smothering his devils. You can get an inkling of Van at his most powerful in live versions of "Domino" and "Caravan." You can enjoy the drive of "Real, Real Gone" and the cleverness of "Wonderful Remark"

There may be something in these recordings for everyone, just like the county fair. But I can't decode the album's structure-songs from different eras stuck together randomly instead of lovingly, so the overall effect has a strange blandness to it. In the day of party mixes, you forget that some music gained strength by the company it kept-the other songs on the album and how they all fit together. This was particularly true of Van, who went through so many periods each with its own signature CD. Yes, there's good music here. In fact, some of it is wonderful music. But it's yesterday's music. I listen to it, but don't really hear it.

At his best Van made music that drains, music that inspires, music that splits you apart, makes you cry and opens the heavens. I just can't forget the power and glory of an artist who once made our hearts and souls his own instruments through the pure force of his music and words. So instead of listening to these songs, they sound to me like cries from a past that's receding like a planet from a departing spaceship in a "Star Wars" movie.

I can't help but shed a soft tear for what has been and may never be again. A storm of thunder and lightning extinguished into a listless drizzle.

Watch Van Morrison's - "Moondance" video

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