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DVD Review: Van Morrison – Under Review 1964-1974

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Van Morrison: Under Review 1964-1974 is a two-hour documentary that covers Van Morrison's career from his early years through 1974. The Under Review DVDs are not authorized by the subjects, their management, or record company, but, as with most of the series, I view this as a positive, as it allows the people reviewing the artist to reflect and comment freely.

Van Morrison, born George Ivan Morrison, is a Grammy Award winning singer, songwriter, author, poet, and multi-instrumentalist who has played professionally since 1959. Morrison is generally considered one of the most unusual and influential vocalists in the modern rock and roll era. His music has inspired, and to this day influences, musicians world wide.

Morrison's music has followed a path all of its own. Much of it has been structured around American soul and R&B, intertwined with threads of jazz, traditional Irish Celtic, and even stream-of-consciousness narrative. Growing up in Northern Ireland, Morrison was exposed to music all his life; in the neighborhood where he grew up, all of those types of music could be heard in the streets. His father, a shipyard worker who had spent time in Detroit, Michigan, collected American jazz, blues, and country and western albums which made lasting impressions on Morrison.

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The DVD begins with a brief history of Morrison's early youth and the influence that music had on him. It then moves to the larger world around him: the skiffle movement, Lonnie Donegan, and the London scene, and then the formation of the band "Them," whose name was taken from a 1950's horror movie. Them began as a blues band not unlike the early Rolling Stones, but is was Morrison's early songwriting that allowed him to take over and make a real name for the band.

Next, the disc takes us through the albums of his solo career: Astral Weeks, Moondance, St. Dominic's Preview, Tupelo Honey, Veedon Fleece, and It's Too Late to Stop Now.

Van Morrison: Under Review 1964-1974 contains rare and classic performances which are assessed by a panel of experts including journalists, biographers, and musicians who have played with Morrison. During each phase of his career, the direction that Morrison took is assessed from the vantage point of 40 years later.

The DVD is very rich with music, live stage appearances, and taped dialog. It fully explores the period, and provides very deep insight into what made Morrison the type of artist that he was, and how he walked the line between creating artistic works and popular music. His Astral Weeks, which, while regarded as one of the best albums of all time (#2 on Mojo's list and #19 on Rolling Stone's), would have seen him starve to death for lack of sales. On the other hand he could churn out Top 40 hits when he needed to: "Gloria," "Brown-eyed Girl," "Moondance," "Domino," and many, many others, which kept food on the table.

Even as he walked that line, his concerts stayed true to his music. They turned even his pop songs into events that, by all accounts, were memorable and one of a kind. The critics, to a person, all seem to respect both the man and the artist.

I like most of the Under Review series, but I found Van Morrison: Under Review 1964-1974 one of the very best because of its mix of music, dialogue, and an ability to get to the soul of the artist. The quality of the video is pretty good for concert videos from the early 70's. There are some American Bandstand clips from around 1967 with Morrison doing "Brown-eyed Girl," and audio recordings of him reflecting on different periods.

All in all I thought that Van Morrison: Under Review 1964-1974 was incredibly well done and remarkably insightful. I can wholeheartedly recommend this video to anyone, especially Van Morrison fans.

Panel of Experts

  • Jim Rothermael – A member of Morrison's famous Caledonia Soul Orchestra, which many consider his greatest backing band, and who played on albums such as Veedon Fleece
  • Gavin Martin – Music academic and journalist for NME and Mojo
  • Sam Smyth – award winning writer and Belfast journalist
  • Johnny Rogan – Biographer: Van Morrison: A Portrait of the Artist (1984), Van Morrison: No Surrender (2006)
  • Steve Turner – Biographer: Van Morrison: Too Late to Stop Now (1993)
  • John Wilde – Journalist for Q and Mojo
  • Nigel Williamson – Author and journalist for Uncut, Guardian, and Rough Guides books

Bonus Features:

  • Extended Interviews
  • The Interactive Van Morrison Challenge
  • Meet the Panel – Contributor Biographies
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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.