Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Listen: Listen to the Lion

Purchase Van Morrison's "Listen to the Lion" or from the masterful St. Dominic's Preview

Van Morrison's "Listen to the Lion" is an 11 minute epic, a magisterial hymn. Orchestral, blooming with strings, a shower of cymbal and piano trills and delicately teetering guitars that flash like lightning over the seesaw vocal line, where words and utterances of grunts, guttural inflections and non-verbal cadences and tones--so much more than "ohs" and "ahs"--sound equally poetic.

No one but Van Morrison could deliver a song like "Listen to the Lion." For all that I said above, hallmarks of Van's music from the 60s and 70s, plus the poetic vibe of a transcendental troubadour delivering soulful, heartfelt reflections on one's place in the mystic lacework of the universe, there is something special, yet utterly intangible, about his music.

"Listen to the Lion" shouldn't really work--it has none of the snap jazz kick of say "Moon Dance" or the dirty swagger of Them's "Gloria" or "Here Comes the Night". But, like much of what he did on that incredible string of 1968's Astral Weeks to 1973's Hard Nose the Highway, the music doesn't so much defy as transcend classification. There's pop, soul, jazz, folk--a veritable jukebox of genre and sounds. (Van Morrison was--is--if nothing else, a master of soul.) Yet, to me, there was always something indefinable in Van Morrison's music. How did he create such off-center harmonies, singing with a vocal delivery like the rise and fall of a mad hatter on the run?

Van Morrison's music, from a certain period, is like the amalgamation of everything good about music, perhaps what God would have envisioned when He invented the idea of music. Everything is there: a fleet of musicians playing an array of instruments that only rarely make it on to a rock record. The vocalizations are incantation, repetitive like a grand soul singer, and he always manages to cast a spell with that stuttered, off-track floating delivery.  He rises from despair to joyousness, carrying emotion on a wing in the air, and while a phenomenal writer, he needs little more than a few repeated phrases to create a poetic image rich in tone and as colorful as a painted masterpiece. The brilliance in "Listen to the Lion" is in it's breathlessness. A hushed masterpiece; an epic ballad of an imagined diaspora, a payer to a higher being, calling the soul to a journey that has no true destination. An evocation of something spiritual and beautiful that is unnamable. An invocation of the animal soul inside us, growling to be released.

"Listen to the Lion" is visceral, beautiful, a prayer sung rather than spoken.  Proof of a thesis I didn't know even existed: That vocals are far more important than words.             

blog comments powered by Disqus