Monday, 1 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 28 St Dominic's Preview

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 28 
St Dominic's Preview - Van Morrison

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer
"Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific — and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien."

The Van Morrison of St Dominic's Preview is always on the edge of apprehension, travelling, reaching for, trying hard "to make this whole thing blend". He is seeking some kind of ecstasy, some Blakean revelation where words and music combine together to open the zipper which keeps your eyes blind to the invisible, your ears deaf to the inaudible, your fingers insensible to the impalpable. It's Almost Independence Day.

The album opens with Jackie Wilson Said, and like Keat's celebration of Chapman's Homer, Van celebrates Wilson's translation of love into music.  Is it love, or the song of love, that lifts Van into heaven? Words do not suffice, sound and love are moving Van. He gives himself over to the effort to express the inexpressible.

"And you know just where you are
When you wanna roam"
Gypsy opens with a sound that The Violent Femmes would recapitulate twenty years later. It seems to be hung on a tightrope between solitude and companionship. Who is the Gypsy? Can rootlessness and roots be reconciled? A song of exile and rootlessness, but also of belonging to the road, the campfire, the moon and the stars - "You know just where you are / When you wanna roam."

I Will be There is the most innocuous song on the album, a traditional jazz blues number reminiscent of Ray Charles. Fine but not quite as  replete with revelation as the rest of the album.

Goose bumps and delirium. How can you listen to the opening of Listen to the Lion and not feel both. Once again Van is looking for something
"And I shall search my soul
I shall search my very soul
And I shall search my very soul
I shall search my very so-o-oul"
At times freewheeling through the notes, at times banging his head off the wall that separates him from expressing himself, wishing his voice could take flight so fully he metamorphosed into pure yearning sound, He almost loses speech and returns to inarticulate moaning. Van goes back to generations who sailed to Caledonia, from Denmark looking for a "brand new start," tying his spirit to that of the Vikings, searching for strength from deep within.

In St Dominics Preview here he is cleaning windows, trying to reveal the view outside and also harking back to his work as a window cleaner in Belfast.  Stopping and starting, repeating phrases,  Morrison becomes shamanic. Perhaps, like St Dominic, he is the patron saint of astronomers, discovering new planets. He is in Paris but also in Vegas and also in Belfast and Buffalo. In the songs multiple experiences tumble in parallel and Morrison tries to bring them all together, to reach some epiphanic moment that always remains tantalisingly out of reach. The images are fluid - when he sings 'I hope the joists / don't blow the hoists" I see the giant cranes of Harland and Wolff dismantling the Golden Gate Bridge and the Lagan pouring into San Francisco Bay.

"Boy and his dog / Went out looking for the rainbow" Redwood Tree works as a cry to nature for it's embrace and protection and also as a song about childhood and once again sets a human alone with nature side by side with a couple, this time a boy and his father. It feels like the relationship of the solitary with nature is complete right from the start but humans need to learn to live with each other.

In Almost Independence Day Van repeats again and again the phrases I can hear / I can see / I can feel. The sensory overload that runs through the whole album heads towards a climax it can never quite reach.

I haven't even tried to describe the music, the celtic soul, a semi improvisational melding of jazz, Irish , soul, soundtrack and more besides. A stunning, beautiful, devastating album that stands with Astral Weeks as the greatest achievement of the solo Morrison. I've a feeling, yes I have a feeling, in my fingertips and whiskers that I have come to this far too early. This is sometimes my favourite album and after two days listening to it and little else it currently is.


  1. I was sure that this would be my choice Van until I had that run in with Astral Weeks and Veedon Fleece. It took me a while to grasp the beauty of those two and I'm guessing that St Dom's retreat from my favour is more about my joy at grasping the previously unreachable. Listen to the Lion, Almost Independence Day and the title track would all be in my fav' Van top 20; it's the two average cuts (I Will Be There & Redwood Tree) that, for me, keeps it from greatness... Playing it now and it's a beautiful sound...

    1. You'll notice I've removed I Will be There, immediately improving the album. Redwood Tree would be next in line if I were to cut it further although it 'belongs' more.

  2. As I think / dreamt I've commented before I've only got the lp with the strange cliff duet on. I'm not sure why especially as I like a load of artists who have been ripping him off for years (maybe something to do with Them being one of those bands and Gloria being one of those songs I have a strange illogical hatred for!) Spotify has its issues but this is what it is made for - I can now have skim through Van the Man's stuff before committing - a bit like sleeping together before marriage ..ish

    although I've now just looked at spotify is pretty crap as far as Van is concerned more like a fudge and a nudge before marraige

    1. Yes, Van is clearly not convinced by Spotify. That's why I used the Youtube links. But he is there in abundance. You can find whole albums. Astral Weeks and St Dominic's are great (and Trevor stands over Veedon Fleece).

      But then I love Them, and particularly Gloria. Aways thought it was strange that the garageband perennials for both 60's and 70's were from Northern Irish bands.

    2. Fudge and a nudge?
      Is that... like... 'backdoor love' David?

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    Leigh Ann
    MaMa's Book Corner

  4. It's a moveable feast and I've moved from Veedon Fleece to It's Too Late Too Stop Now which has a great version of Listen to the Lion. Seamus, I'm baffled by the garage band perennial from the 70s... I can only come up with Teenage Kicks?


    1. Love Too Late as well Brendan. Teenage Kicks it is. Surely the song that launched a thousand guitarists.

  5. I like Van but not got this one and as they are out of print at moment ,I think they are going all be reissued at some point but not sure when ,all the best stu

    1. Hard to believe they are out of print. Is there some big date coming up? It's 45 years since Astral Weeks was released this November. Maybe a rerelease campaign around that?