In the end, when he slips into the mystic and is truly transcended and meets the queen of the slipstream, Van Morrison will be remembered for a few singles from the soundtrack of the early 1960s, Gloria, Domino, Brown-Eyed Girl among them, and Astral Weeks, which produced no singles and enjoyed minimal popular success (it only went gold 33 years after its release, in 1968). Yet it remains on artists' and critics' Top 20 lists of all-time best rock albums. Astral Weeks had statement written all over it: it was Morrison's coming out as an artiste. Tennessee Williams once said that writers are constantly reworking the same material. Morrison certainly revisited, over the next 40 years, Astral Weeks' themes of across-the-tracks longing, nostalgia for the backstreets of Belfast, and spiritual yearning, yet he never matched the album's musicality again. So with his career winding down, he hired an orchestra, including the guitarist Jay Berliner from the original recording sessions, and played the album live at the storied Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Musically, it's a treat. Morrison assembled a crack, follow-the-leader, 13-piece band. But he drools through his part. The lyrics are incomprehensible unless you've got the sheet in front of you or a steel-drum memory. Thankfully, Astral Weeks was always kind of jazzy. The vocals can now be understood as a kind of scat. Still, it is worth hearing The Way Young Lovers Do again, no longer sung by a 23-year-old mohair-suited popster, but by a 63-year-old artist, remembering what it was like.
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