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OK it's old (released in 1972), but for me Van Morrison's music is ageless, timeless.
Like most of Van's material, Saint Dominic's Preview is a fusion of rock, middle-of-the-road pop, blues, R&B, all presented with a very Celtic flavour, and this album lives up to the growing reputation Van was earning at the time for being impassioned, intense, and a little mystical.
It has always saddened me that (unless there is an error on the everyhit.com website) Saint Dominic's Preview has never entered the top 40 British Album Charts, as for me this is one of Van's best pieces of work.
The album contains a total of 7 tracks that are overall very easy on the ear without being banal (Van is never banal), and wouldn't be a bad place for somebody new to Van's work to begin their journey into the vast and precious collection of this genius's music.
My assessment (for want of a better word!) on this album, track by track, is as follows:-
1. JACKIE WILSON SAID (I'M IN HEAVEN WHEN YOU SMILE)
This is a very upbeat and cheerful song dedicated to the late soul singer, Jackie Wilson, which I'm sure most people have heard, even if they don't realise it. Even though it's a very happy sounding song, it does contain that slight edge of what I call "Van wistfulness". If someone were to hear this song and was unaware of Jackie Wilson, the words almost could be interpreted as a romantic song. Dexy's Midnight Runners made a fairly acceptable cover version of Jackie Wilson Said in October 1982, reaching no.5 in the UK singles charts, but for me it is nowhere near as good as Van's original.
The introduction of this track is rather fast, and the most prominent instruments are trombone and drums....then Van moves in with his vocals, slows the tune down - then speeds up in the chorus. There is a nice, soulful piano backing to the track, and the tempo continues to alternate between slowness for the verse, then the faster chorus repeat. The structure of the tune I feel Van wrote to try and put across the mood of mystery and wildness surrounding our impression of a gypsy lifestyle - plus in the words Van talks about two guitars and dancing around a campfire until the morning light. This isn't one of my favourite Van Morrison tracks - it does contain all the atmosphere he is so adept at transmitting via his music....I think it's the tune I'm not so keen on myself.
3. I WILL BE THERE
This song has a sort of laid-back and very lazy, easy-going feel to it and is a good love song. There are strong jazz influences here, and despite the general laid-backness of the song, the words are very expressive. There is a sultry, almost "dirty" sax solo in the middle of the song, and the feeling I get from it is (as some of the words suggest), chilling out with a loved one on a hot summer's day. Like Gypsy, this isn't in my top ten of all-time Van Morrison songs, but it's nevertheless up to Van's usual high standards.
4. LISTEN TO THE LION
Wow! This track is amazing. Slow, deep, intense and gentle simultaneously. This is a superbly soulful love ballad....it's not about moons in June, hearts, flowers etc. It is a beautifully crafted song which holds power in its subtleness, plus contains lashings of "Van Wistfulness". Van performs this song with an almost gut-wrenching passion, hitting some very high notes (rather loudly), then easing his voice down to a warm, mellow gentleness. The whole track is backed by a softly played guitar riff, and gentle piano harmonies - it's for me the piano that holds the greatest levels of wistfulness. A truly perfect song which digs right into the soul of the idea of that once in a lifetime, true, deep and perfect love......ending with Van chanting that "and we sail, and we sail to Caledonia, and we sail....away from Denmark, way up to Caledonia...." his voice softening lower, and lower down to a whisper, right to the last note which ends with a little flutter on a softly played guitar.
5. SAINT DOMINIC'S PREVIEW
Despite my obsession with Van Morrison, I'm not too sure exactly what this song is about, but for me it doesn't matter. There are some lines in it which speak of a frustration at certain aspects of life not working out. The American city of Buffalo and the Irish city of Belfast (Van's home town) are mentioned in the song (so is Safeway's supermarket), and there is lots of "gazing out on Saint Dominic's Preview". The best line in this song for me is...."everybody's so determined not to feel anybody else's pain". This track has a wonderful tune, with Van's voice at its best, and out of all his songs that contain the "wistful bite", this one has it stronger than most. A very easy to listen to song, which I suspect may hold a deeper message that I've never been able to properly understand...though I suspect at least part of it relates to Van's frustration with the "oppos" in the music business and all its hangers on. Another great line...."they were flying too high to see my point of view", which I believe is a direct attack on the powers that be in the music business.
6. REDWOOD TREE
I love this song....up-tempo and largely happy, yet contains oodles of "bite" (of course, wistful bite!). The story of the song tells of a boy and his dog walking through fields, meadows, by rivers, and stopping to marvel at a redwood tree. The rest of the song tells of sensing nature - smelling rain and thunder - sadly the dog becomes lost, and the boy and his father go out to look for it....it's not clear if the dog gets found! This track has a great tune, and I consider it very possible there may be deeper meanings contained within, that despite having listened to it probably millions of times, I still haven't latched onto or understood.
7. ALMOST INDEPENDENCE DAY
This wonderful track (my favourite on the album) begins with Van humming, along to a guitar and synthesizer backing, and the song continues with the deep soul of Van's vocals. The instrumentation alternates between twiddly little guitar pieces, gentle synthesizer and wistful piano. Occasionally the guitar will loudly pound out a dramatic chord, then go back to quietly tinkling....like running water...blending harmoniously with the piano. The sound of Van's voice on this song is soul personified, and the words are very atmospheric and descriptive of seeing boats in the harbour, lights shining out...in a a cool cool night, hearing fireworks up and down The San Francisco Bay...hearing them echoing. The track builds up and up slowly......then at the end drifts away slowly, Van singing gently in "repeat" mode accompanied by piano, guitar and synthesizer....the whole show culminates in a soft chord on the synthesizer, fading away into silence.
Well, what can I say? This isn't my absolute no.1 Van The Man album, but it does make his top ten.
I believe Saint Dominic's Preview is still widely available in all good music stores, plus both new and second hand copies can be bought cheaply on CD or DVD via E-Bay and Amazon. The most expensive price I've seen it (new) on sale for is £14.99 in a music shop a few miles from my home, and the cheapest ever (used) copy I've seen was on E-Bay a couple of years ago - the final bidder secured it for just 99p!
It is true that I am very biased when it comes to the music of Van Morrison, but I still believe Saint Dominic's Preview is a first class work of art from Van's earlier period. If you are a true and serious lover of soulful, wistful and very skilful songwriting, I recommend you at least give it a listen and make up your own mind.
Thanks for reading :-)
After years of Van by the yard, one forgets that he once rang the changes with each album he released. 1972's Saint Dominic's Preview can be seen as one of his strangest. His sixth album, consisting of just the seven tracks, opens with the excellent and boisterous Jackie Wilson Said, essentially a Tupelo Honey re-write, but no harm in that. Astral Weeks fans will especially enjoy the eleven minute ramble of Listen to the Lion and the sharp lyrics of the title track, ("Just to be hip and get wet with the jet set. But they're flying too high to see my point of view" being a standout).
The album closes with the lengthy, minimalist rumination of Almost Independence Day and its striking, ebb and flow synthesizer. The variety of the tracks here shows Van as an artist still exploring his limits whilst the accomplished arrangements and pacing show him improving his craft yet again. Not a part of his back catalogue to be missed and available at mid-price alongside his other 70's releases.
Never bought a Van Morrison album? Buy Moondance. Want a deeply intense album for "those moods"? Buy Astral Weeks. Want an album that is oh-so-listenable to, with songs you can sing along to and more than a touch of intelligence? You've come to the right place! Some of the most beautiful music ever made by Van is on this album, the particular highlights being the majestic title track and "Listen to the Lion", a song that goes right to the heart of the musician's soul. Van's voice has never been so perfect since he recorded this album in 1972 and these tracks, particularly when put alongside the live versions of so many of them on the "Too late to Stop Now" live album, are soundtracks of his progress towards stardom. The album was recorded at a particularly happy point in Morrison's life. He was living in Woodstock with his wife (the gloriously named Janet Planet) near The Band. His writing is correspondingly upbeat. There are few tracks in the world as upbeat as Jackie Wilson said(I'm in heaven when you smile.) This was covered by Dexy's Midnight Runners in the 80s. Legend has it that they turned up for Top Of the Pops and found that the backdrop image the TV producer planned to use was... not crooning legend Jacky Wilson, but the dart player Jocky Wilson. Ho hum. Gypsy and Redwood Tree are also songs full of the joys of life, if not particularly serious. But why should they be? Too many Van Morrison albums are inaccessible for the first x listens, but this, alongside his more jazzy classic "Moondance", is a wonderful open rollercoaster of a ride. It'll put a smile on your face and it's a cert for a sing-along once you're familiar with the tunes. Enjoy it. Wish I was there to see your face as you hear it for the first time.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)
3 I Will Be There
4 Listen to the Lion
5 Saint Dominic's Preview
6 Redwood Tree
7 Almost Independence Day