Most rock and pop music connoisseurs alive today have likely heard Van Morrison’s Moondance. Recorded in 1969 and released in 1970, the album contains some of the most recognizable tunes in the lexicon of modern music. Amidst a resurgence of folk music and the impact of relative newcomers like Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, and even Passenger, fans new and old will delight in the latest releases (yes, plural) of the classic album. Moondance – Expanded Edition, available now on HDtracks, contains hi-res remastered 192kHz/24-bit and 96/24 versions of the original album and a second “disc” of unreleased alternate takes and a previously unreleased track, “I Shall Sing,” which was later covered by Art Garfunkel. Although Moondance is available as a hi-res download, the tracks on the Expanded version are listed as if they’re two separate discs — and the second Sessions “disc” is only available at 44.1/16.
Also available as a hi-res download is the exhaustive Deluxe Edition (packaging shown above) that features lengthy sessions with multiple, different takes of most of the original tracks. For many fans, the Expanded version will be just the right balance of familiar takes and bonus features, but the true hardcores should go fully Deluxe.
The first Expanded “disc” is a remastered version of the original album by Elliot Scheiner, listed as the album’s original engineer (Shelly Yakus was recording engineer back in ’69). And the newly reworked masterpiece is brighter and sharper than ever. “And It Stoned Me” is the first cut, and it’s instantly apparent how differently tracks were mixed back in that era. The piano is panned hard left, the horn section is hard right, and Morrison’s vocals are dead center, but pulled back and very soft in the mix. The acoustic guitar has much more presence than the vocals, but it forces the listener to really pay attention to hear nuances of Van’s words.
The title track “Moondance” has never sounded better. Every note of the distinctive bass line resonates. Oddly, the piano on this track is panned hard right. This is such a great example of a clean, simple jazz track where less is definitely more. This one is definitely going into my sound quality playlist.
Although Morrison’s version of “Crazy Love” didn’t garner much airplay, it’s become a highly covered and much loved song, appearing in plenty of movies and interpreted by everyone from Helen Reddy to Rod Stewart. Originally, it was released as the B-side to “Come Running,” but in the Netherlands, it was switched to the A-side. (Yeah, back in the day when singles were truly released as 45 rpm singles!) The song has a beautifully clean, simple sound — it’s a timeless love song. The acoustic guitar is flawless, and the subtle mix of the keyboards and vibraphone is delightful. Again, Van’s heartfelt lead vocal is pulled back, but it’s recorded with such clarity that every breath is audible.
“Caravan” brings in a more upbeat band, with rousing background vocals. As with the rest of the tracks, this one has the hard panning common in the ’60s and ’70s, but a nice bit of reverb blends the left and right tracks, and the bass, drums, and vocals are anchored in the center. There’s a nice interplay of acoustic guitars in the left and right channels too.
“Into the Mystic” brings in strings and more percussion, and a more balanced stereo image. This is such a beautiful, lilting song, hinting more than any of the other tracks of Morrison’s Irish background.
It’s easy to see why “Come Running” was released as a single. Its catchy feel and R&B background vocals blended with a great horn section is instantly engaging. Similarly, the bluesy beat of “These Dreams of You” sounds instantly familiar. Van infused both of these songs with a laid-back vibe and clean, simple orchestrations.
The renaissance feel of “Everyone” features a clavinet and flute, with a 12/8 time signature; Bach would be proud of this track. You can’t help but compare this one to early Jethro Tull. And while we’re comparing styles, it’s hard to listen to the intro to “Glad Tidings” and not wonder if Pharrell Williams’ massively overplayed “Happy” wasn’t inspired by this upbeat, happy tune, complete with the double-time hand claps.
The second “disc” makes for an interesting listen, for sure. Most of the songs are rather rough around the edges, complete with false starts and the engineer slating the title of the song. It’s most evident on the beginning of the classic blues of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”: this one is rough with just a basic piano and drum track with a tiny hint of bass. The arrangement of “Glad Tidings” is much more reminiscent of Morrison’s earlier hit “Brown-Eyed Girl” than the mix that ended up on the original release; it’s a much more piano-heavy mix. The alternate take of “Come Running” lacks the female background vocals, and has a more laidback groove. This might be my favorite version of this classic.
The alternate take of “Moondance” (Take 22) is perhaps the most interesting one on the album. The iconic piano riff is in a different, minor key, and the song has an entirely different feel and vibe. It’s an edgier, jazzier mix, and so drastically different than the version of “Moondance” we all know and love. It’s interesting to ponder how musical history might have changed if this version had made the final cut.
If you easily succumb to earworms, be warned — the unreleased version of “I Shall Sing” will remain firmly entrenched in your brain for days. This gloriously happy, upbeat tune is exuberant, with an ease that only Van Morrison can convey. Art Garfunkel’s 1973 take is joyful too, but this one feels more authentic.
If you’ve never had a chance to add Moondance to your collection, the Extended edition is the definitive version to download. As noted earlier, the Deluxe version is for the über-diehard fans, while Extended maintains just the right balance of familiar tracks with a peek behind the scenes in the studio. The remastered tracks have never sounded better, and the alternate takes and versions of favorites are fascinating to explore. Your caravan to enjoying some crazy hi-res love starts here.