Reaching no.4 in the UK in June 1993, Van Morrison's Too Long In Exile was one of a short string of albums after his 'spiritual' phase, providing a stepping stone between that phase and settling into steady style of soft R&B/light jazz music. This is a fairly long album, on which Van reworks quite a lot of his older material, some of it being self-penned peppered with a few cover versions, including a re-working of the now infamous Gloria from Van's early days with his band Them.
With the now sadly departed John Lee Hooker accompanying Van on some of the vocals, this album is a gentle, lightly R&B-flavoured collection of songs which I feel are ideally suited to a quiet evening in by the fire, or perhaps a lazy Sunday morning spent nursing a slight hangover. With Candy Dulfer on alto sax and Georgie Fame on Hammond organ and sharing the backing vocals, this album slots neatly into Van's time scale of work as he has moved from phase to phase throughout his long career, appearing to produce music relevant to his state of being at any given time.
The title track, Too Long In Exile, opens this album with gentle organ from Georgie Fame and some quite jazzy drumming. The tune is fairly jerky, although the overall arrangement is soft and mellow. The lyrics seem to speak of having been shut away from the world or stuck in the same place for too long, and that now perhaps it is time to begin breaking out. Like many other Van songs from about the late 1980s onwards, his lyrics make references to various legendary poets and writers, such as James Joyce and Oscar Wilde (amongst others). There is some lovely, albeit laid-back, twiddly guitar popping up now and again during this song, and some of the backing vocals almost take on a slightly gospel-ish feature. Georgie Fame's input on Hammond organ is rather prominent, more or less carrying the instrumental part of the song and there is some very quiet, almost indistinguishable brass in the background. Van's voice is on top form, taking the tune to his usual places....happy and positively expectant, yet laced with an edge of wistfulness bordering upon the melancholic. As would be expected, Candy Dulfer's sax playing is truly superb, and in the second half of the song, she comes into her own, playing some quite intricate, yet very tuneful riffs which are easy and pleasant to listen to. I love this song as it makes me feel reflective and relaxed. Perhaps it could be just a tad shorter, but that is a minor issue and not intended to be a criticism.
Big Time Operators opens with sleazy guitar and bass, with Georgie Fame joining in with his Hammond. The percussion is soft, also sleazy-sounding, all the instruments melding to give an almost 'dirty' urban blues feel. Van takes the main vocals, with the tune keeping in the same bluesy mood....a mood which comes across as almost tongue-in-cheek bluesy. The lyrics make a very direct attack on the music business, the moguls who manipulate in order to make money for themselves, and other gripes. Perhaps some of the words do come across as Van being a bit paranoid, but then we aren't inside his head, so who knows whether he has been through these things to the degree that he is complaining about, or whether he is exaggerating? The song continues in the same vein, relaxed, laid-back and rather cheeky-sounding in a mellow sort of way. This definitely is slow, sultry jazz-influenced music which probably is suitable for lying in a swaying field of corn on a hot summer's day, just looking up at fluffy white clouds slowly drifting across a powder blue sky. There is a quite frantic guitar break....not a fast one, but very enthusiastically played...during the middle-eight, with Van quietly providing some scat-singing vocals, before it returns to the main part of the song.
Lonely Avenue is an old R&B standard which Van and his then current band cover here. The tune is rather melancholic, with some sad-sounding guitar playing twiddles up and down the fret board, backed by a slow organ and drum rhythm. Candy Dulfer then joins in with some utterly superb, crystal clear sax, which has a sad, bluesy flavour. Van takes the lead vocals with his voice truly on top form, mixing the basics of the tune with little bouts of scat singing. The words of this song are quite sad, and Van's urgent voice brings out a truly depressive note. He then plays the middle-eight on harmonica, growling, dirty, bluesy, injecting a sense of additional desperation into an already gut-wrenching (albeit gentle) arrangement. He then hands over to Georgie Fame who finishes the middle-eight on his Hammond, with Van returning to scat-singing a string of vocals. Perhaps the scat part is a little overdone, but Van is famous for that anyway. This song has always depressed me, regardless of who sings/performs it, but Van and his band here give it that little touch of class which is lacking from so many other versions....even if it perhaps is a little too long.
The next track, Ball & Chain, appears on a couple of other Van albums, this being yet another version. The tune is really good, typical of The Man's more easy to listen to material, quite heavily laced with his brand of wistfulness which here is injected into the song by his vocals and the pianist. The lyrics aren't particularly mind-blowing, but flow along smoothly, speaking of somebody (obviously Van himself) who has been roaming around and now needs an anchor of sorts after having pretended things were OK for far too long - when perhaps they weren't. The instrumental arrangement is quite tight and very together, plus interesting, because each musician is playing something totally different, yet melding with and complementing the other band members, all opposites yet still in true harmony, if that makes sense. Although I do like this song very much, I perhaps would like to hear a bit more energy put into it, as the tune lends itself to something a little faster.
In The Forest, I feel is a strange track to include on this album (it being a re-mix of how it appears on one of Van's other albums). The words are truly inspiring, poetic, glorifying the majesty of nature, ancient roads, historical sites, greenery, streams....all sorts. I'm not overly keen on the tune of this song, and prefer it how it originally appears on a different album. This version doesn't lend itself to the slightly jazzy arrangement, simply because the mood of the lyrics doesn't gel with the dirtier, sleazier aspects of this album. There is a nice little guitar break in the middle, but some of the backing vocals just don't sound right, and an alto sax pretty much running through the whole track has a tone that I'm not so keen on. The best part of this song for me is the tune, and as it appears here, the lovely little guitar rolls with Van's soulful voice taking it down to a close as it drifts off into the golden glow of some faraway sunset.
The next track, Till We Get The Healing Done, is another where Van is re-vamping his own material. Similarly to In The Forest, this is a song which, given the jazzy/R&B treatment on this album, has to rely on the strength of the tune because of not lending itself too well to this style of arrangement. The instrumentals on this track are quite basic, more rhythmic than anything, with nobody particularly standing out above anyone else. The lyrics are very strong, speaking of inner healing, sanctity, cleansing and moving out of the darkness into the light. The most prominent musician here is Georgie Fame who does blast his Hammond out in front here and there, but otherwise it is Van's singing which strikes most. I do prefer the standard, other version of this song, but although it sounds a little out of place on this album, I still adore its slow, lazy tune and rhythm.
Gloria is one of Van's best-known songs, which he didn't originally write, contrary to what most people think. On this album, this is where John Lee Hooker's vocal input is really noticeable, his and Van's voices melding beautifully together, almost as if they were made for one another. The track opens with gentle organ, drumming and guitar, with Hooker's soulful, soft voice taking the main tune. The arrangement of Gloria here is quite different to how it appears on any other album or 45rpm. It is lighter, crisper, gentler and less in your face. When Van joins in with the vocals, he and Hooker really do spark one another off, singing in call and response style for much of the time. The rhythm of Gloria here is steady, and although the overall mood remains light, it does get noisier as the other instruments join in, with the drum-beat being very firm....it is noisier in what I call a 'higher plane' way though, rather than a down'n'dirty raw R&B way, although of course this is R&B music...just quietly so. As the track continues, the guitarist gives a stunning performance along with the drummer, during the middle-eight, accelerating the song to some quite exciting places. For me, this is the most interesting arrangement and performance of Gloria that I've heard, in my opinion being the best by far.
Good Morning Little Schoolgirl is the next track, an old standard which I personally have never been keen on, regardless of who performs it. Given the true R&B treatment here, the instrumentals are a little muddled to begin with, settling into a steady, albeit jerky rhythm once Van takes the lead vocals, his voice being at its very best. A concubine of brass breaks in with little blasts as the song progresses. Although everything is in total sync and well-arranged on this rendition of a classic, it doesn't hit my spot and I'm unsure as to whether that is due to me not liking the song much in the first place, or having a dislike of the way the musicians are gelling with one another. There is a harmonica break in the middle which I'm not mad about either, again possibly due to my overall dislike of the song. The best part of this rendition for me definitely is Van's vocal performance.
Wasted Years....ouch ouch ouch! Yet another re-working of a song that appears on another of Van's albums. The reason why I say ouch ouch ouch, is the innate wistfulness this song has always held for me. Straight away it launches into the main tune and vocals, with Van's voice smooth, velvet, passionate and sad, beautifully backed up (in call and response style) by John Lee Hooker's gentle, wistful tones. The lyrics speak of the regret, sadness and feelings of hopelessness that someone may experience looking back at a largely empty and unhappy life, yet there is a spark of positivity in there...the words urging to live in the present, let the past go and not make the same mistakes again. The tune of this song is not slow - it's of moderate tempo - but is really sad. Hooker and Van work so beautifully together on this track, bringing out all the gentle emotion and packaging it into one song that softly but powerfully tugs at one's heartstrings. The concentration of this song is on the vocals rather than the instrumentals, with the band decently taking a back seat, providing something for the singers to spring from rather than hogging the lead.
The Lonesome Road has quite a jolly little tune and is presented here with a jazz flavour, not too far away in style from the other version on a different Van album. The tune is good, the instrumental accompaniment is light and very cohesive, with the main feature being Van's vocals. He does strain a little on some of the top notes, but in an OK way. There is a nice guitar break in the middle, expertly played, backed up by xylophone and rhythmic drumming. This song jogs along at a nice place, although lyrically it isn't overly strong....but for me in this case, that doesn't matter too much. Overall it is just a nice, easy-listening piece of music which jogs along at a happy pace.
The next track, Moody's Mood For Love, opens with organ, soft brush drumming, xylophone and Van's vocals. His voice is superb here, velvet, mellow, and as the tune is rather complex, his vocals slide up and down the range with true ease. It is songs like this that really show Van Morrison off as being the brilliant singer he is more than capable of. The mood of the track is soft, romantic, and presented in more of an old-fashioned jazz style....soft and sultry, very much late-night listening. This probably is a song for letting someone know, with subtlety, that you wish to bonk them!
Close Enough For Jazz begins with piano, drums and guitar played very much in cool jazz style. The tune is mid-tempo, and rolls along at a steady pace, yet has a very slight air of wistfulness about it that I find quite touching. The whole track is totally instrumental, with a nice, if not somewhat sad-sounding guitar break in the middle. Overall, a true class soft jazz song which caresses rather than tugs at the more wistful end of one's heart strings, and it slots very nicely into the album as a whole.
Before The World Was Made begins with strumming on a quiet guitar, then soft drums, xylophone and Hammond organ join in. Van takes the vocals, with his voice at its best, singing what is a rather laid-back tune which doesn't pull any punches, but is quite penetrating in a wistful sort of way. Given a soft, late night style jazz flavour, this is a track which is good to relax to. The lyrics are quite thought-provoking if listened to carefully, but that is hard to do until you get truly used to both this track and the whole album. There is also a short, but delicious sax break provided by Candy Dulfer during the middle eight, trailing off into a melancholia-tinged melee arena of softness.
I'll Take Care Of You opens slowly on quite a depressing note, with harmonica, percussion, organ and xylophone. The tune is bluesy, dark and sad, the lyrics (sung beautifully by Van) being of a romantic nature, empathising someone else's lost-love emotions, and offering something strong to lean on. There is a tinge of desperation, bordering upon hopelessness in the words, due to somebody continually attempting to draw someone else to them, but largely in vain. If you are in a difficult frame of mind, this song can be borderline agonising to listen to, as it is sad in an almost 'gun in mouth' blues way....gentle and soft, but distinctly depressing. However, that doesn't mean to say it is bad. This is another re-working of one of Van's performed songs (I'm not sure if he actually wrote it though) which appears elsewhere, given the soft jazz treatment here. I love the way the song trails off at the end, wanton, sad, sorry for itself, floating away into somewhere quite dark.
Instrumental/Tell Me What You Want continues seamlessly, segueing from the previous track, evolving into something quite mind-blowing. Candy Dulfer provides a number of superb sax stretches throughout, which although soft and mellow, rip your guts out, kicks them around the room and puts them back in the wrong order. The tune as it continues, is tastefully repetitive, exquisitely sad, slow, melancholy, with all the musicians combining together to provide one beautifully crafted, bitingly wistful piece. Although there are no lyrics as such to this final segue, Van does periodically perform some improvised scat vocals which add to the overall mood/atmosphere of the song, taking it to places deep within the human condition that I have no name for.
Too Long In Exile is quite a lengthy album, with a few of the tracks being over 7 minutes in duration. The overall mood is tinged with wistfulness...sometimes more than merely tinged....the genre being a combination of gentle R&B and soft bluesy jazz. This album was released at a time when I personally feel that Van Morrison's singing abilities were at an all-time high, him injecting a far greater depth of feeling than he already brilliantly does on a considerable amount of his other material over the years.
The whole album, even if you don't like the genre and/or some of the songs, is extremely easy and relaxing to listen to, with the focus very much on creating a gentle, easy-going mood which is tinged with sadness.
If you are the sort of person who likes a very detailed CD booklet, then you might be dissatisfied with this one as all it lists is the musicians and lyrics to the songs, but such isn't a problem for me as I go for the music way up above everything else.
It isn't easy for me to ground my feelings about Too Long In Exile as an album, because despite liking it very much, it isn't one that I play anywhere near as often as some of Van's others. Also, it was released and purchased (plus played quite a few times) by me during 1993 which for one reason or another was a very dark time of my life, so whenever I've heard it since, it brings back those strange memories from my past and I've so far been unable to detach them from the music on the album. However and overall, Too Long In Exile is a very neatly arranged, skillfully performed collection of Van-penned songs and covers of old classics, which mood-wise hovers between lazy happiness and maudlin sadness....but, most of Van's sad stuff contains a shining light of positivity which balances his music out into messages of hope in times of despair, unwanted solitude, confusion, emotional discomfort and that feeling of being lost.....and this album is no exception.
At the time of writing, Too Long In Exile can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-
New: only 2 copies currently available @ £13.95 and £35.73
Used: £2.94 to £34.99
Collectible: from £14.50 to £60.00
New: No copies currently available
Used: only 2 copies currently available @ £2.50 and £2.70
Some items on Amazon are available for free delivery within the UK, but where this doesn't apply, a £1.26 charge should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Too Long In Exile
2 Big Time Operators
3 Lonely Avenue
4 Ball And Chain
5 In The Forest
6 Till We Get The Healing Done
8 Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
9 Wasted Years
10 Lonesome Road
11 Moody's Mood For Love
12 Close Enough For Jazz
13 Before The World Was Made
14 Medley/I'll Take Care Of You