Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Van Morrison 4: Tupelo Honey

Life in the sticks was certainly agreeing with Van, based on the sunny, bucolic photos adorning the sleeve of Tupelo Honey. Here we see the country squire, long-haired, bearded and developing a gut, wandering along wooded lanes with horses, his lady and a cat.
His R&B approach gets a little country color, thanks to the occasional appearance of a pedal steel guitar, but it still has to cut through the Caledonia soul. “Wild Night” was the big hit, with its percolating bass line, but it’s “Straight To Your Heart (Like A Cannonball)” that grabs your ears. “Old Old Woodstock” and “Starting A New Life” celebrate home and family, and “You’re My Woman” is an overt love song, building from basic verses to the repetitive cadences that would pepper his live performances.
The lovely title track is a high point, and it’s a credit to its simplicity that we only just noticed that it’s melodically identical to “Crazy Love” from Moondance (Van’s “conceptual continuity” rivaling that of Frank Zappa). “I Wanna Roo You (Scottish Derivative)” is even happier still, while “When That Evening Sun Goes Down” manages to distill Nashville Skyline into three minutes. There’s even something of an epic finale in “Moonshine Whiskey”, which alternates between a barn dance waltz and an uptempo jig, revving up for the big finish.
Listening to the album, one doesn’t hear any echoes of the discomfort that began to set in following the end of the Sixties. Instead, life seemed pretty good. As happy as Tupelo Honey is, Van apparently didn’t enjoy making the album, as he had just moved to Marin County, leaving Old Old Woodstock to the hippies who didn’t have a map to Max Yasgur’s farm. He doth protest too much, because he certainly sounds in the mood for love here.

Van Morrison Tupelo Honey (1971)—3
2008 CD reissue: same as 1971, plus 2 extra tracks

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