In many ways, Irish Heartbeat was Van Morrison’s reawakening. He was opening himself up once more to the idea of collaborating; giving up the singular vision which he had been pursuing for a collective one. This also spawned a reawakening in the public eye. Though Morrison seemed able to confer directly with his core audience with any output, it was this record that grabbed the ears of the masses once more.
In a run of overlooked records, there is one absolute sleeper in Van Morrison’s catalog. Coming in at the end of an era – a string of releases that showcased an artist in constant transition, attaining pinnacle after pinnacle, and pushing his craft into a realm that, while never expected, certainly doesn’t surprise the close observer of Van’s arc – is a release that only the most adherent of followers seem to dare give a spin. As if perfected, Van leans in on the methods established on No Guru, No Method, No Teacher and Sense of Wonder, trading spiritual loftiness for down-to-earth conviction and subject matter that tends to focus on the absolutes of the human condition instead of the singular mystic vision of the artist.
Part 6 of our Celtic Guru series. Perhaps ‘No Guru’ is a veiled admission that Van’s vehicle of theosophy, literature, and astral tendency to suspend himself and audiences in a frozen moment of space-time simply could not deliver on the spiritual awakening sought after for so many years. Having come up short, why not hunker down and make use of the mystic foundations he had built up over the decades in search of these answers in the minutiae of daily life.
Fresh off the road from showcasing his calculated brand of Celtic Soul, Van returned to the studio in 1984 to record his most overlooked work of his 1980’s oeuvre. From the opening licks of “Tore Down a la Rimbaud” we’re greeted with familiarity: a tight groove, a muted edge, and Van drawing inspiration from his literary heroes. The studio craftsmanship of Morrison’s prior works of the decade remains, and he runs a tight ship keeping the layers of arrangements and backing singers right on time.
Part 4 of our Celtic Guru series. Released in 1984, Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast was recorded a year prior on the heels of Inarticulate Speech’s release. With the familiar cast of musicians that he had been using on tours and in the studio over the last few years, Van could construct a comfortable atmosphere that, while surely demanding, cultivated the appropriate balance of studio re-creation and spontaneous musical ideation.
Picking up exactly where Beautiful Vision’s “Scandinavia” left off, “Higher than the World” unfolds amid a cascade of synthesizer, choppy R&B guitar, and the saccharine acknowledgment of higher consciousness that defined Van Morrison’s sonic pilgrimage of the 1980s. The third installment of what can be termed the Celtic Guru period, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart incorporates a softer edge to the sound that Van was building over the course of the decade.
The string of releases to follow Common One would serve as companions in staking out a New-Age Celtic spirituality built on channeling legacies as far flung as Jimmy Rogers, Ray Charles, Christmas Humphrey, and L Ron Hubbard. Critical as any of these to Van’s Celtic Guru years was an interpretation of Alice Bailey’s theosophy. The ideas were laid out on Van’s 1980 masterwork, but the seven rays never radiated as brightly as they did on Beautiful Vision.
Common One was the album Van Morrison had been trying to make for ten years. It would mark the furthest he had moved away from the sounds of Astral Weeks, while still maintaining the sonic and literary craftsmanship of the legendary session. The blues and soul records that shaped Morrison’s musical upbringing were still present. It was definitely a rock and roll record. And the astral folk leanings for which the critics had held on to the singer for so long, ran through the entirety of the nearly hour-long affair.
The mystical notions of theosophy have inspired long artists like Sun Ra, Van Morrison, and Elvis Presley. With the publication of the 1905 text Thought Forms, Sacred Bones Records continues a long tradition of music and the occult intertwining in the pursuit of making the unknown knowable.
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