His Band and the Street Choirby Van Morrison
Released in 1970, Van Morrison's Moondance was a hit commercially and critically. Encouraged by his manager, Morrison and a sextet -- including three players from the Moondance sessions -- hit the studio and delivered His Band & the Street Choir in time for that year's holiday season. Morrison responded to the pressure by relaxing into it. The feel here is loose, often celebratory. He digs deep into his long-held fascination with the New Orleans R&B tradition for inspiration. "Domino" is his highest charting single. The funky guitar lick, left-hand piano rumbling, driving, Memphis-style horns, and pumping bassline kick things off in grand party style. The ballad "Crazy Face," written in 1968, melds acoustic guitar, mandolin, and piano. Morrison's brittle, bluesy saxophone line and a grooving B-3 tip the balance toward R&B. "Give Me a Kiss" has a great Zigaboo Modeliste feel in the horn charts; Fats Domino gets referenced in Alan Hand's piano stroll, and the punchy, doo-wopping tag in the chorus nods at Frankie Ford. "I've Been Working" (which dates to Astral Weeks) is Morrison at his funky best, roaring above a cooking choogle. The acoustic guitar vamp is highlighted by swirling organ, and electric Meters-esque guitar and basslines. Drummer Dahaud Elias Sharr lays down tough breaks and fills throughout as jazzy horns frame the singer. "Call Me Up in Dreamland" features the loose-knit "street choir" (musicians, wives, girlfriends, etc.). It's built on the ragged, Celtic soul-gospel template that Morrison would continue to refer to. The intimate "I'll Be Your Lover Too," adorned only by acoustic guitar and whispering drums, is haunted with the slow-burn passion that would flow so easily on 1972's Saint Dominic's Preview. Second single "Blue Money" is a Rhodes-and-brass driven blues that returns to the NOLA trick bag for fire. The poetic "Virgo Clowns" is painted in a lovely meld of 12-string acoustic guitars and bass clarinet. "Gypsy Queen" is slippery love song, with Morrison offering a gorgeous falsetto. The Celtic soul in "If I Ever Needed Someone" is highlighted by the same trio of backing vocalists that appeared on Moondance's "Crazy Love." The closing title track draws on the swaggering, testifying gospel that inspired that album's "Caravan" (and, played back-to-back, seems to grow right out of it). The street choir's backing is sweeter, balanced by eloquent sax and harmonica breaks. As an album, His Band & the Street Choir may not equal Astral Weeks or Moondance, but the aim was never that lofty. That most of these songs have endured as fan favorites is testament enough to their quality.
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