With a gentle acoustic strum over two chords and color from a piano, “Fair Play” is a sweet waltz, picking up whenever Van gets to scatting. Following in a similar mood, “Linden Arden Stole The Highlights” would appear to be about some kind of modern outlaw, a John Wesley Harding sort of character. Apparently, despite loving the little children, we’re informed at the end of the song that he’s “living with a gun”. That very predicament is bemoaned at the start of “Who Was That Masked Man”, which uses a shrill falsetto that only gets a little bit in the way. Only four songs in “Streets Of Arklow” manages to be a nice distillation of the entire album instrumentally and thematically, which is an odd setup for “You Don’t Pull No Punches But You Don’t Push The River”. Running at nearly nine minutes, it’s very much in the vein of Astral Weeks, picking that album’s meditations on various philosophies, with tense strings, a dancing flute, William Blake and the Eternals, as well as other spiritual ideas that will surface again and again over the years, on a search for the mysterious object of the album title.
Side two begins deceptively upbeat, as “Bulbs” offers more of the rock sound of his recent albums. The lyrics are fairly impenetrable, seemingly describing a baseball or (American) football game and referencing light bulbs—some of which turn blue, as they had for Jimi Hendrix—redeemed every time by the wordless “la-la-la” section. Whatever the story, it’s clear John Hiatt has heard this song. “Cul De Sac” contains a musical pun, being a rewrite of “Dark End Of The Street”, and hindsight would suggest it’s another look back at his home town. As the band vamps on the ending (still reminiscent of the closing theme from Saturday Night Live) Van grunts and emotes. Similarly simple chords carry “Comfort You”, another sweet love song, contrasted with the more intimate come-on in “Come Here My Love”. The distant drone of a hurdy-gurdy and pipes hover beyond the edge of “Country Fair”, which sports a melody that we’ll hear again, and ends on a completely unexpected fingerpicked flourish.
Besides being very quiet, Veedon Fleece is sneaky. It may not seem much at first, but the individual and collective qualities of each track emerge to present something very special. Without a clear “hit single” (the most obvious choice being “Bulbs”) it becomes a collective entity, and a fine album.
Van Morrison Veedon Fleece (1974)—4
2008 CD reissue: same as 1974, plus 2 extra tracks