Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Best Irish Album Ever

A lot of people haven't heard of it and it took it thirty four years to go gold, but in my opinion Van Morrison's Astral Weeks is the best pop music record ever to have been made by an Irishman/woman or group. Although most of the songs were written in Cambridge, Massachusetts and it was recorded in New York, this is an album all about growing up in 1950's Belfast. Nostalgia wafts from every groove as words and harmonies take us to a city of record shops, greasy cafes, bread vans, trains, shipyards and tight knit neighbourhoods filled with the craic. Using a group of session musicians who were given free rein to improvise over a song collection about Van Morrison's working class boyhood this unlikely ensemble (no one even knows who the flute player was) produced a masterpiece which won't be repeated in this era of synth musicians who are all manufactured in a lab somewhere in North Bergen, New Jersey. If you think Irish music lurks in the interface between Enya, U2 and the Clancy Brothers or - God save us - Westlife then you need a brand new Venn Diagram that includes The Waterboys, Snow Patrol and Belle and Sebastian (actually they're Scottish) who were all heavily influenced by Astral Weeks. Not convinced? Elvis Costello thinks its one of the greatest albums of all time as do Mojo Magazine, Q Magazine and Rolling Stone

The emotional highlight of Astral Weeks is Madame George. A 10 minute song about a West Belfast drag queen who runs a shabeen. The only free version I found was this one to the right. Van is not firing on all cylinders here (he's 60 something) but it gives you an idea. (I tried to get rid of the letters on the screen but the record company put them up there for some silly anti piracy reason. The eejits.)