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CD Review: Van Morrison's Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl



The Deal: Van redoes retro that outdoes the original.

The Good: "If I ventured into the slipstream could you find me?" Van Morrison asked Hollywood bowl audiences over a two-night re-creation of his 1968 classic Astral Weeks record last November. As this live recording of that event shows, the answer is a resounding yes. The 63-year-old Morrison is more shamanistic than ever, stretching syllables, bending sounds, speaking in tongues as he leads the crowd in a retro worship service. The text is Astral Weeks, reworked and updated. The songs have been altered, reborn in different genres. "My tongue gets tied every time I try to speak," Morrison sings on an eight-minute version of "Cypress Avenue," "and my insides shake like jelly on a plate." This is one of his strongest performances ever. Morrison is an operatic diva, a soul man and a preacher, sometimes all at once. It's a mesmerizing presentation. Morrison has said he doesn't aim to take the listener anywhere, but if the listener gets caught up in it, then "I guess as a writer I may have done a day's work," he told the L.A. Times recently. A reworked and extended version of "Slim Slow Slider" with its gypsy jazz/gospel/blues vibe is the highlight of the show, but you can't trap this music or this feeling in a category.

The Bad: "I shall search my soul for the lion inside of me," Morrison sings, and it's obvious that he's found it. You want to shoot the idiot in the band who starts yelling "Van the man" over Morrison's magnificent vocals at the end of "Listen to the Lion."

The Verdict: Yes, Morrison is still the man. If there was any doubt, all you have to do is shut up and listen to this lion roar.

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