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Old 06-11-2008, 09:52 PM   #21 (permalink)
Son of JayJamJah
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Default His Band and the Street Choir

Following up Moondance a scant seven months later is Van's fourth studio album and evolving proof of his seemingly unique prolific and dynamic nature...

His Band and the Street Choir (1970)

The second album of 1970 and really, while partly a spill over from Moondance, another stand alone classic. Loaded, again, with shorter more self contained songs, it as another celebratory tale and while not as great as its predecessor, an ultimately enjoyable album. Featuring a steady and sure nod to a number of Van’s musical idols and inspirations most notably Fat’s Domino and the R&B sounds of early rock and roll. A lighter more graceful version of Moondance without the emphatic brilliance but still a bright brimming example of Morrison’s dynamic excellence. Featuring more brass and less of the flute and piano styling on the prior records, one of the most successful and well reviewed albums of Van’s early years.

1. Domino – Hammering out the sounds from the first note, energetic and inspired it’s a jazzy opener to the second album of 1970. Horns drive the sound from end to end as the guitar sways back and forth along with the bass. Steady percussion rounds out the sounds as the brass pushes the song into its signature chorus complete with the revolving resetting instrumental outro\intro. It’s the unbridled love and admiration Van delivers this number with that makes it more then a pop song and a hit single. It’s a damn good song that’ll move you side to side. 9\10

2. Crazy Face – This one will sneak up on you, and before you know it, you’ll love it. Each listen provides a new level to the lyrical or musical composition that adds to the overall picture and purpose of the song. The horns scream out the chorus in place of Vans signature vocals. The verses and mesmeric and melodious and packed with nuance and feeling. Core-shaking instrumental interludes and forays into variable vocal registers and cadence. An abrupt but satisfying finale completes the pact. 8.5\10

3. Give me a Kiss – Old style R&B number that never fails to satisfy. The addition of the horns in the second verse give the song the pep and panache necessary to fit the album and serve justice to van’s creativity. Do-woppy back-up vocals and punchy horns that define an era define this song. Surprisingly delightful if not as original as a number of Vans’s other work and this and surrounding albums. 8\10

4. I’ve Been Working – A definite stand out. This songs pulls you into a smoke filled studio on the day of its creation and immerses you in it’s essence. Jazzy and with a soulful swing as it motors from end to end in with a stammering swagger. Funky at its soul; it blends funk\jazz\blues\R&B seamlessly. With its “one word say’s it all” chorus there is no doubting the drive behind this song. Rumored to have been reworked from an original version jettisoned from Astral Weeks, that’s not beyond belief although it’s hard to see where a version like the final product would have fit, the origins are unquestionably alike. 8.5\10

5. Call me up in Dreamland – An elegant and effortless soul churner. Graceful spirit and urgent anxiety are the catalyst for this forceful remnant dropped from Moondance into perfect place at the tail end of side one. Included amongst a cavalcade of instrumentation is a simple but satisfying sax solo inspired by or inspiring the round about ageless lyrics of the song. “Never to grow old on the saxophone” Van spits and snarls as the lyrics to open each verse are unleashed. This contrasting style along side the harmonious and full chorus propel this one to elite status. 9\10

6. I’ll be your Lover, too– Soft and slow with guitar plucking lead and vocal emphasis put where needed. It’s a bit of a slow if ever developing song, but a style that Van had visited before and would revisits several times over in the future. Strong lyrical performance with poetic prose and phrasing to match. The influence on Lyrics of T.S Elliot and William Blake is most notably present on this album and this song in particular. 7\10

7. Blue Money – Another old time styled R&B tribute number, with as much playful and self effacing innocence as any Van track prior or since. Typical Van the Man musical evolution from section to section and bar to bar. Incorporating the entire arsenal including some of Van’s goofiest vocal bridge work ever. The piano pounds away the rhythm as the lyrics dance to and fro amongst a brass background. Blue Money was one the biggest hits from the album and remains critically acclaimed and universally loved by fans. 8\10

8. Virgo Clowns – A noble and punchy sort of ballad amongst an R &B country canopy of acoustic guitars and well placed stings and brass backing. The Fog horn provides another subtle note to a song that delicately adjusts itself from punchy to strummy throughout while instructing the occupant to “let your laughter fill the room”. You’ll discover another level of the music with every listen. Impossible not to enjoy if for nothing else it’s originality and nuance. 8.5\10

9. Gypsy Queen – Feathery light and gentle as Van ventures to falsetto and whispery tones in this reassuring walk through the clouds. Guided by bass and brass mainly the starry bells musical backdrop sets the necessary mood. An interesting song that can turn off a novice listener or fan. Another solid number amongst a quality compellation and while not a personal favorite all the time a song I occasionally really enjoy. 7.5\10

10. Sweet Jannie – Simple bar-blues style number, which seems out if place other then the fact it’s clearly a style Van has always had allegiance towards. Very safe and limited because of its structure it fails to excite and evolve in the necessary manner. A well executed but unneeded break from the already loose format of the album. Selfishly I give it 6.5\10

11. If I ever needed Someone – Soulful and spiritual foreshadowing though almost certainly unknowingly. There is no question the conviction of Vans pleas for divine intervention from the opening moments of the song. With gospel style back-up vocals and a step-up style bass and drum section, it’s strong musically, spiritually and lyrically. Still if there is a critique it is another somewhat safe and predictable musical effort leaving you wanting just a little more. 8\10

12. Street Choir – The clear cut standout performance from the album. Prodigious and prestigious with an ambiguous central dynamic revolving around Van’s potentially rhetorical inquiry “Why did you leave America, why did you let me down” It’s impromptu opening, church style organs as the yin to the bellowing and fluttering horns yang, a harmonica led interlude in the songs late-middle and the fraught and frantic vocals are the elements that drive the song to excel as it does. Still a personal favorite. 9.5\10

“…“His Band and the Street Choir” is another beautiful phase in the continuing development of one of the few originals left in rock. In his own mysterious way. Van Morrison continues to shake his head, strum his guitar and to sing his songs. He knows it's too late to stop now and he quit trying to a long, long time ago. Meanwhile, the song he is singing keeps getting better and better.”
“Van Morrison: Rock on.”

John Landau, Rolling Stone 1971

First Time I Listened to it: 1974
Defining Track(s): Domino, I’ve Been Workin’, Street Choir.
Line in my head: "Why did you leave America"

Star rating: (1-5) (from my personal catalog) ****
How it made me feel today: (1-10): 8.5
Overall Ranking: TBD (Top 10)

Next up: Tupelo Honey - 1971
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