Van Morrison - Astral Weeks (1968), 8/10

Van Morrison proved himself a truly inspired artist full of outstanding songwriting talent with Astral Weeks. The title track and “Sweet Thing” exhibit especially infectious melodies backed by intricacies that were masterfully presented by a superbly talented band, headed by the wonderfully talented jazz bassist Richard Davis, who performed on records for Eric Dolphy and Andrew Hill among others, alongside Jay Berliner on guitar yet ultimately powered in vitality by Morrison’s aggressive and contrastive vocals. Some compositions are more effective than others for their energy or emotionally charged range of material, some even displaying an inherent brilliance in performance that would be impossible to duplicate. Still, the first half of the record is far stronger than the latter half for its memorability in messaging and execution of score. You can hear the surprisingly coherent synergy of vocals with instrumentation, considering the separation of the band and Morrison himself this is unexpected but welcome, yet within the band the individual virtuosity is equally apparent in improvisation and coerced interpretation. While some songs reach a higher plane than the rest, the consistency in sound and ethos is remarkable, again perhaps due to a trimming of the sessions for the record and an intentional approach to the final product. The album regularly flirts with sensuality, simultaneously painting vivid imagery in a tangible reflection of Morrison’s vision as a collection of experiences and varied emotional states. While his later work would progressively retreat into a guarded approach to songwriting and conservative philosophies, Astral Weeks presented an adventurous, spirited display of Morrison’s most vulnerable artistic expression in concert with his most notable set of individual performances, both from the band and from himself. While he perhaps has stronger individual songs outside of Astral Weeks, he never created such an exhilarating, inspired, and holistic recording.