Tribute to Van Morrison's Moondance
Van Morrison’s third solo album, Moondance was released in 1974 and has remained one of the most loved albums of all time. Morrison, 24 at the time, was able to create a master of an album that combined R&B, folk rock, country rock, and also jazz so smoothly. Much to Van Morrison’s disapproval, Moondance was reissued as a deluxe edition five-CD box set – with 50 songs including studio outtakes, unheard mixes and unreleased tracks. Despite Van’s issues with this, it is a huge score for fans. Local singer and Irish-born singer, Mark Dignam, talked more about the greatness of Moondance with Morning Mix host, Cindy Howes.
Mark’s experience with Van Morrison might be described as religious. That's fair, considering the music was a major landmark for Irish musicians and culture. “Here’s the future of Irish rock. As Irish musicians starting out, it was almost a sense of Van came down of the mountain with these two tablets of musical commandments.” The two tablets Mark mentions are, of course, Van Morrison’s albums Astral Weeks and Moondance.
Originally released in 1970 and recorded in New York City, Moondance was a huge hit. The music isn't just rock with an Irish man singing. It’s a carefully crafted blend of everything Van Morrison enjoys. “This is what makes him a master, this is what makes all of them masters. You can take your influences and plaster them very, very strongly on your record, and then it becomes a gospel album, a folk album, a country album. With this album he took a little bit of everything… Nothing is out of balance.” Morrison is ranked up there with the greatest of Irish poets, William Butler Yeats, and Yeats must certainly have inspired Van Morrison. “I can see the influences. When anyone takes a stab at American music and holds on to the Irish roots. He’s got that mystical Yeatsian thing going on on one hand, and also this up-tempo horns and pianos whacking away. There’s a sense of mysticism and of reverence in Astral Weeks particularly, and Moondance becomes a bit more of a party album after that. I think that’s very much representative of the Irish approach to music.”
The Irish aspect of music is very much a social thing, says Mark Dignam. “The tradition in Ireland in a lot of ways was all about sitting around and passing around songs.” Invariably, he says, Moondance will be played by someone. Van Morrison himself takes part in this tradition, and Mark even has friends that have met Van Morrison this way. “I know people that have sat down with him and have been quite intimidated by the experience.” Dignam’s friend Glen Hansard has had a harrowing story about Van Morrison dragging him into a room and demanding that up-and-coming Hansard play him some original songs. Listen to the audio for the whole story.
Warner Brother’s reissue of Van Morrison’s Moondance has caused some controversy in the Morrison camp, but as Mark Dignam says, “I’m surprised, to be honest, that Van Morrison doesn’t get the idea of when you finish your art, you become a product. Or at least your art becomes a product.” The product is definitely a great piece of art that anyone should enjoy. “I mean, they’re wrapping the thing in linen. You know, who’s not gonna be happy at the end of the day? It’ll pass, and he’ll get over it. He’ll survive, I think.”
Listen to the segment below and also check out Mark Dignam's cover of "Into the Mystic" recorded live at WYEP.