Review Summary: A brilliant offering that brings together folk and jazz with a strong Celtic scent.
1973 was a transitional year for Van Morrison. Having divorced from his wife Janet (Planet) Rigsbee (or Brown Eyed Girl
), he decided to visit Ireland for the first time in six years with his then-fiancée, in order to find inspiration for his next album. Judging from the outcome, his choice was wise, as during his three-week stay there, he managed to write almost the entire material for what turned out to be Veedon Fleece
; an LP that was received poorly by the press and even Morrison learned to love through the years as signified by the inclusion of four Veedon Fleece
songs in his collection Lit Up Inside: Selected Lyrics
Often compared to Astral Weeks
, The Belfast Cowboy's 8th offering, is a blend of folk and jazz with a strong Celtic scent and some blues elements. The album has a consistently melancholic mood, moments of pure bliss and others where it almost turns into a religious experience. Its songs flow into one another, sometimes because they share the same theme, like "Linden Arden Stole the Highlights" and "Who Was That Masked Man" (featuring Van singing in falsetto), the country influenced "Bulbs" and "Cul de Sac" or the love ballads “Comfort You” and “Come Here My Love”. Nevertheless, the entire long-player has a very relaxing, dreamlike at times, atmosphere that makes you just want to sit by your window with a cup of warm tea, your favorite book and just enjoy the soundscapes created by Van. Some songs feature more traditional structure while others are looser and it almost feels that the remaining members of the recently disbanded Caledonia Soul Orchestra are feeding off Van’s lyrics and energy. As such, tracks like album highlight "You Don't Pull No Punches But You Don't Push The River" and "Cul De Sac", feel very organic and jam-like. At this point, special mention should be made to Morisson’s backing band who supports ideally his amazing vocal performance that brings to mind that of Astral Weeks
with Van creating vivid images and highlighting words/phrases as only he knows.
His lyrics are highly personal and there are many times where he just expresses his feelings and reactions to places or incidents. As a result, the album was characterized as "self-indulgent" when it came out. Even the album’s title feels idiosyncratic, a Van Morrison creation that, according to him, means nothing. Nevertheless, in some magical way, listeners can not only share the bard’s feelings but relate to them and make them their own; even when Van’s lyrics might feel out there, a line might appear that feels so personal and break you down. For example, who hasn’t felt like an outsider and lonely even once in their life like Linden Arden or, otherwise, the “Masked Man”? And how relevant "Bulbs" and "Cul de Sac" still are when they describe the Irish immigrants leaving for the US at the time? Going back to the Celtic elements, “Streets of Arklow” has a bluesy feel but the flute brings a strong Irish flavor to the song and the same is also valid for “Country Fair”; a trait which is expected, considering that the album was mostly written in Ireland and that the same elements were also present on 1972’s Saint Dominic’s Preview
Lastly, comparing this one to Astral Weeks
might seem fitting, but at the same time, it’s like missing the point. “Astral Weeks” is one of a kind, a golden fleece for the vast majority of artists out there. Nevertheless, Morrison’s 1974 long-player is superb in its own right. Beloved by great ones like Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley, and characterized as one of their all-time favorites by Sinéad O’Connor and Elvis Costello, Veedon Fleece
is introspective and evocative, an underrated classic within Van Morrison’s catalog.