Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Let down and hanging around

Late last month, Rolling Stone premiered one of the four bonus tracks—the first take of "Beside You"—that will be featured on the upcoming reissue of Astral Weeks. Yesterday, Uncut offered an exclusive peek of the much-anticipated extended version of "Slim Slow Slider."

And my is it underwhelming. There's aimless instrumentation, Van flatly singing a few words from what may or may not be an old Protestant church ditty, and absolutely zero of the beautiful solemnity for which the original is renowned. Thank you, but no.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A first step

No future can be charted without a starting point. For Van Morrison, it was a song recorded in the spring of 1967. It was done in just two takes; even so, upon completion, the artist—the exile—abruptly collapsed in on himself. "He was just torn apart," said the session's sound engineer. "He was sitting on the floor in a heap like a wrung-out dishcloth, completely spent emotionally."

The song is a labyrinthine journey into the heart of what moves us, what sustains us, what remains with us, and, perhaps most crucial of all, what dies with us. There's an unparalleled desperation, a need to convey these feelings and emotions before they lose their purity and vitality, before they fade like a photograph left out in the sun. At nearly 10 minutes in length, the song conflates old genres and births new ones: Belfast Blues, Ginger-Haired Soul, Deathbed Folk. "T.B. Sheets" is the first step on the tangled path to Astral Weeks.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Strange days indeed

I listened to Quintet's Astral Weeks ~Strange Days From Another Star~. It delivered the same feeling I get when watching my children spend 10 hours climbing on furniture, cartwheeling down stairs, doing somersaults on the ceiling, swan-diving off top bunks, and perfecting the skill of sprinting full throttle while screaming at top volume: I was simultaneously jealous of and fatigued by their inexhaustible energy.

Upon the album's completion, I was overcome with this urge to complete an act both audacious and liberating. Like if it was a weekday afternoon and I was driving home from my place of employment, I would have taken off my socks and work shoes, flung them out the car window, and joyfully worked the pedals with my bare feet.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Unrefined poetry

The phrases, the words, the repetition, the coarse blend of English and Irish—it all reads like unrefined poetry, like a timeworn incantation that when fervently chanted, rouses the ghosts of far-removed, long-forgotten places.

Beal Feirsde ... The mouth of, or approach to, the sandbank or crossing ...

Bealafarsad ... Hurdleford town or the mouth of the pool ...

Bela Fearsad ... A town at the mouth of a river ...

The Irish maintain an intimate connection with the natural features of their environment, a devotion that engenders a unique charitableness when it comes to place-naming. "They lavished names on the land," writes Kerby A. Miller in Emigrants and Exiles. "Every field, cleft, and hollow had a distinctive appellation which recalled some ancient owner or legendary occurrence." This rich appreciation for nature, this power to give even the most ordinary aspects of the landscape a certain permanence is present in the name of Northern Ireland's capital and most historically important city: Belfast.

A little taste

Last week, Rolling Stone whet the appetites of us Astral Weeks zealots when it premiered one of the four bonus tracks that will be featured on the album's upcoming reissue. The publication debuted the first take of "Beside You." The reissue will feature three other previously unreleased tracks: the fourth take of "Madame George" and longer versions of both "Ballerina" and "Slim Slow Slider." This new edition of Astral Weeks will be released Oct. 30.