Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Van Morrison - It's Too Late To Stop Now Vols. I, II, III, IV & DVD; A Vault Release Done Right; A Treasure Trove of Live Morrison


Photos courtesy of Van Morrison

Sony Legacy has just released a brand new CD remastering of Van Morrison's 1974 double live album It's Too Late To Stop Now. They have also sweetened the pot in a major way by digging into their newly acquired Morrison vault to release three complete shows from the same 1973 tour that produced the double LP, 45 previously unreleased tracks over three CDs plus a live DVD. Last year Legacy acquired the rights to the entire Morrison catalog, which they announced thusly.
Legacy Recordings, the catalog division of Sony Music Entertainment, has acquired the rights to the most complete discography of contemporary music legend Van Morrison ever assembled under one label imprint.

The Van Morrison musical acquisition spans more than 50 years of music, encompassing some 50 album, video and compilation titles from 1964 to the present. The new Legacy Van Morrison archive includes all of Morrison’s solo works from 1971 to the present as well as the recordings made with the groundbreaking rock band Them from 1964 through 1966.
It's Too Late To Stop Now, Volume I
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In the summer of 1973, Morrison did a live tour of eight shows, which were all recorded. The double live LP It's Too Late To Stop Now was assembled with tracks from these recordings. The album had been previously available on CD, but Legacy has just gone back to the original 2" sixteen track analog tapes to remaster the album for best possible sound.

These recordings capture Morrison at the peak of his powers, performing with his hand-picked eleven piece group The Caledonia Soul Orchestra, which included horns and strings. One of my favorite aspects of these recordings is that, unlike the majority of live albums, there was no overdubbing, fixes, or "sweetening"; this music is exactly as played. On CD, It’s Too Late to Stop Now, Vol. I provides the same 18-tracks as the original LP. In addition, it contains no performances from the concerts that are released as Volumes II, III, and IV. Moreover, six of the songs are unique to Vol. I.

Listen to: "Into The Mystic", "Here Comes the Night", and "Cyprus Avenue"
It's Too Late To Stop Now, Volume I
Disc 1
01. Ain't Nothin' You Can Do (3:48) Joe Scott
02. Warm Love (3:05) Van Morrison
03. Into the Mystic (4:31) Van Morrison
04. These Dreams of You (3:37) Van Morrison
05. I Believe to My Soul (4:08) Ray Charles
06. I've Been Working (3:56) Van Morrison
07. Help Me (3:25) Willie Dixon
08. Wild Children (5:04) Van Morrison
09. Domino (4:48) Van Morrison
10. I Just Want to Make Love to You (5:14) Willie Dixon
Disc 2
01. Bring It on Home to Me (4:42) Sam Cooke
02. Saint Dominic's Preview (6:18) Van Morrison
03. Take Your Hand Out of My Pocket (4:05) Sonny Boy Williamson
04. Listen to the Lion (8:44) Van Morrison
05. Here Comes the Night (3:14) Pierce Turner
06. Gloria (4:15) Van Morrison
07. Caravan (9:21) Van Morrison
08. Cyprus Avenue (10:20) Van Morrison

It's Too Late To Stop Now, Volumes II, III, IV, and DVD
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This is where the going gets sweet. Remastering a great live album like the one above, is a fairly common practice. But, when they expanded the project by offering Volumes II, III, IV, and a DVD in a quite reasonably priced package, this is truly manna for Van fans. Volumes II, III, & IV are Morrison shows from the same tour that produced the original It's Too Late To Stop Now album. Volume II was recorded at the legendary Troubadour in Los Angeles on May 23, 1973. Volume III was recorded at the Santa Monica Civic Center on June 29, 1973. Volume IV was recorded at the Rainbow Theatre in London on July 23 and 24, 1973. The DVD was also drawn from the Rainbow shows, but its nine tracks include four songs that are not on the CD. Each of the three CDs have fifteen tracks and they tell us that these forty five performances are previously unreleased, so we may conclude that none of these tracks were used in the original album release.

Lest anyone think that there is redundancy in this expanded package, there is not. Volume I has always been one of the best live albums ever, including the then-current hits and a good sampling of deeper tracks. Volumes II, III, & IV show Morrison as the consummate artist painting a very different canvas with each live set. These concerts are very different from one another, and the song overlap is minimal. Some songs appear in two of the three shows but no song was performed at all three shows.

To prepare these recordings for release, they were mixed from the original master tapes. "Guy Massey's remix offers stellar sound. There is a lot more balance between horns and strings, more emphasis on piano and lead guitar, while bass and drums are set just behind Morrison's vocals" (allmusic.com). I have checked numerous sources including the Legacy Recordings website and I can find no reference to Volume I being remixed, only remastered. The quotation above comes from an All Music review of the Volumes II, III, & IV package. However, being that these recordings are being released here for the first time, the word "remixed" would appear to be a misnomer. I suspect that the tracks in Volume I were also remixed as above, to achieve not only best sound quality but sound consistency over all of the elements of this release.

At this point, I would single out some highlights but these three CDs are a complete delight from start to finish. Morrison, who is long known for his temperamental performances, is really into it on this tour.
“I am getting more into performing,” Morrison commented in 1973. “It’s incredible…. All of a sudden I felt like ‘you’re back into performing’ and it just happened like that…. A lot of times in the past I’ve done gigs and it was rough to get through them. But now the combination seems to be right and it’s been clicking a lot.” (theseconddisc.com)
All three shows offer a nice mix of Morrison originals as well as covers of older songs, which show Morrison's influences.

Listen to Volume II: Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me"; a fired up "Hey, Good Lookin’" written by Hank Williams; and an ultra cool, very jazzy version of "Moondance".
Listen to Volume III: The jazz/blues standard "Since I Fell For You", a very hot "Domino", and an intense version of Ray Charles' "I Believe To My Soul".
Listen to Volume IV: The blues classic "I Just Want To Make Love To You", Morrison, sounding like he's having fun on "Here Comes The Night", and a blazing "Caravan", "turn it up".

VOLUME II (Recorded live at The Troubadour, Los Angeles, May 23, 1973)
01. Come Running (Van Morrison)
02. These Dreams Of You (Van Morrison)
03. The Way Young Lovers Do (Van Morrison)
04. Snow In San Anselmo (Van Morrison)
05. I Just Want To Make Love To You (Willie Dixon)
06. Bring It On Home To Me (Sam Cooke)
07. Purple Heather (Van Morrison)
08. Hey, Good Lookin’ (Hank Williams)
09. Bein’ Green (Joseph G. Raposo)
10. Brown Eyed Girl (Van Morrison)
11. Listen To The Lion (Van Morrison)
12. Hard Nose The Highway (Van Morrison)
13. Moondance (Van Morrison)
14. Cyprus Avenue (Van Morrison)
15. Caravan (Van Morrison)

VOLUME III (Recorded live at the Santa Monica Civic, California, June 29. 1973)
01. I’ve Been Working (Van Morrison)
02. There There Child (Van Morrison, John Platania)
03. No Way (Jeff Labes)
04. Since I Fell For You (Woodrow Buddy Johnson)
05. Wild Night (Van Morrison)
06. I Paid The Price (Van Morrison, John Platania)
07. Domino (Van Morrison)
08. Gloria (Van Morrison)
09. Buona Sera (Carl Sigman, Peter De Rose)
10. Moonshine Whiskey (Van Morrison)
11. Ain’t Nothing You Can Do (Don D. Robey, Joseph Wade Scott)
12. Take Your Hand Out Of My Pocket (Sonny Boy Williamson)
13. Sweet Thing (Van Morrison)
14. Into The Mystic (Van Morrison)
15. I Believe To My Soul (Ray Charles)

VOLUME IV (Recorded live at The Rainbow, London, July 23 & 24, 1973)
01. Listen To The Lion (Van Morrison)
02. I Paid The Price (Van Morrison, John Platania)
03. Bein’ Green (Joseph G. Raposo)
04. Since I Fell For You (Woodrow Buddy Johnson)
05. Into The Mystic (Van Morrison)
06. Everyone (Van Morrison)
07. I Believe To My Soul (Ray Charles)
08. Sweet Thing (Van Morrison)
09. I Just Want To Make Love To You (Willie Dixon)
10. Wild Children (Van Morrison)
11. Here Comes The Night (Bert Berns)
12. Buona Sera (Carl Sigman, Peter De Rose)
13. Domino (Van Morrison)
14. Caravan (Van Morrison)
15. Cyprus Avenue (Van Morrison)

About the DVD: This is a priceless piece of video, which was filmed at the Rainbow Theatre in London during the same two dates as the CD. The nine track, fifty minute program originally aired on the BBC but it is otherwise previously unreleased. It was professionally shot and contains lots of closeups of Morrison. On DVD it is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio, which was the television standard at the time. There are no audio options on the DVD and it will play on your surround sound system as a 1.0 mono recording, all of the sound coming from the center speaker. I can find no documentation on this, either on the disc packaging or at the numerous sources I've checked, so I will conclude that it was the intention of the producer of this release to give the viewer a video experience that is consistent with how the special was seen at the time, in 1973, with the sound coming from your TV set. Regardless of audio format, Morrison fans will just love having this on DVD.

Watch: Brown Eyed Girl, Help Me, and "Caravan" below.

Watch "Caravan" from The Rainbow Theatre DVD.


DVD (Recorded live at The Rainbow, London, July 23 & 24, 1973)
01. Here Comes The Night (Bert Berns)
02. I Just Want To Make Love To You (Willie Dixon)
03. Brown Eyed Girl (Van Morrison)
04. Moonshine Whiskey (Van Morrison)
05. Moondance (Van Morrison)
06. Help Me(Ralph Bass, Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson)
07. Domino (Van Morrison)
08. Caravan (Van Morrison)
09. Cyprus Avenue (Van Morrison)

In a bit of irony, offering a kind of commentary on the fragmented state of the music industry, even extending to music journalism, the best description of this release I found was in The Wall Street Journal, of all places, in a article written by Jim Fusilli (WSJ rock and pop music critic). I am pleased to reprint it here.
...Revisiting the original album and spending a few hours with the fresh material serves as a reminder of what greatness is.

Supported by the Caledonia Soul Orchestra, a versatile 11-piece group that included a string section, the original “It’s Too Late to Stop Now” package presented Mr. Morrison singing, with focus and fire, a few of his hits, showcasing his two most recent albums—“Saint Dominic’s Preview” (1972) and “Hard Nose the Highway” (1973)—and covering songs made notable by Bobby Blue Bland, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Willie Dixon and Sonny Boy Williamson. The tracks on the new Volumes II, III and IV were culled from the same concerts as those included on the ’74 release, and rise to the same artistic caliber. The expanded “It’s Too Late to Stop Now” is a case where more is more.

The 45 previously unreleased performances on the albums present Mr. Morrison as an artist of significant achievement who was then still in search of new modes of expression and, perhaps more important from today’s perspective, willing and eager to illustrate where his kind of rock came from. Long before the current prosperous era in which singer-composers, be they in folk, hip-hop, R&B or rock, ignore convention by mixing forms and tapping into popular music’s past, Mr. Morrison was doing just that, tossing aside trends and rock’s already stodgy orthodoxy. The new albums reveal just how eclectic his influences were. He covers faithfully and with fitting humor “Buona Sera,” a 1956 hit for Louis Prima, and the oft-performed blues “Since I Fell for You.” There’s a reading of “Bein’ Green,” originally performed by the Muppets’ Kermit the Frog—Frank Sinatra covered it in ’71—which Mr. Morrison recorded for his “Hard Nose the Highway” collection.

These and other performances place Mr. Morrison and the orchestra in a jazz context, something the original “It’s Too Late to Stop Now” failed to do. Mr. Morrison’s “Moondance” swings loose and limber, propelled by Jeff Labes’s piano and David Hayes’s walking bass. (Mr. Morrison quotes “Fever,” introduced by Little Willie John in ’56, perhaps acknowledging its influence on his composition.) “The Way Young Lovers Do,” from Mr. Morrison’s 1968 masterpiece “Astral Weeks,” swings too, with the strings dancing around the melody and offering a thrilling, unexpected interlude that welcomes a piercing solo by trumpeter Bill Atwood, who excels on several numbers. A gorgeous reading of the ballad “Snow in San Anselmo” is punctuated by a mad bebop interval, and Hank Williams’s “Hey, Good Lookin’” emerges as a jump blues.

In those days, Mr. Morrison was a contradiction on stage. As the DVD confirms, he could appear diffident in performance, standing for the most part stationary at the microphone. And yet he churned with contained energy and a soul-deep connection to the emotional core of his music. On “I Paid the Price,” a song he co-composed in the early ’70s but didn’t release back then, Mr. Morrison seems about to implode as he repeats lines with increasing intensity. In “Sweet Thing,” also from “Astral Weeks,” the strings deliver Mr. Morrison to its aching two-word chorus. “Pick it!” the singer barks at guitarist John Platania, who responds with a terse solo before Mr. Morrison and the band leap into an improvised coda.

The three new volumes don’t skimp on Mr. Morrison’s late-’60s pop-and-rock hits; they include “Brown Eyed Girl” and different versions of “Here Comes the Night” and “Gloria”—the latter subdued here—than those that appeared on the original live album. Back then, Mr. Morrison gave the impression that he could compose a hit whenever he wanted to, but also that he had much more on his mind. Concerts like the ones that provide the material for the expanded “It’s Too Late to Stop Now” revealed he was, more so than any of his peers, at the crossroads of rock-and-pop’s past, the best of its then-present and the possibilities for its future. Thus, the new collection rises well above a mere historical artifact. “It’s Too Late to Stop Now” provides an essential listening experience. WSJ
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