Friday, September 16, 2016

Van Morrison It's Too Late To Stop Now Volumes 2, 3, 4, and DVD 2016

There are so many reasons to avoid this release, and maybe just a few to own it.

Even though I knew I was breaking several of my personal rules, I decided to give it a go. I'm not a fan of previously unreleased material. In fact, I discussed my take on this issue back here. I'm also not obsessed with hearing alternate versions of material I've already heard.

That said, I own just about everything Van Morrison ever released. I was able to keep myself from getting his 2015 Duets: Re-Working The Catalogue, as the samples led me to believe it was just as bad as most such outings. But his Too Late To Stop Now from 1974 (now referred to as Volume 1) is one of the finest live recordings ever made, both for the performances and for the sound quality.

The band is as good as they get. The core rhythm section of John Platania guitar, Jeff Labes keyboards and string arrangements, David Hayes bass, and Dave Shaw on drums is rock solid. Platania is skilled in both his rhythm playing and tasteful leads. Add to this the remarkable long-time Morrison band member Jack Schroer on sax and horn arrangements, Bill Atwood on trumpet, as well as the string section of Nathan Rubin, Tim Kovatch, and Tom Halpin on violin, Nancy Ellis on viola and Terry Adams on cello, and you have The Caledonia Soul Orchestra in all its glory. The strings add a really nice depth and touch to quite a few of Morrison's songs, and are a bit unique for 1973 to say the least. Morrison himself is in fine voice, and the band plays most of these songs in uptempo versions that are excellent.

But there's three CDs and a DVD here. The material is taken from recordings made for the original 1974 release. The three CDs and the DVD were recordings made at the Troubadour in LA, Santa Monica Civic Center, and The Rainbow Theater in London. None of the versions included here were also included on the original release. Each of the CDs was recorded at a different venue, and include songs performed during a single night, or two nights in the case of the London shows.

What do you get? There were 18 songs on the original double LP, and the remastered CD added only a fairly lame run through Brown-Eyed Girl, one of the 18 previously unreleased songs here. So why not do a two-CD deluxe version and include the 18 songs not heard before, or even a single CD/2 LP version Volume 2? I have no idea, but greed comes to mind. Over the course of the three CDs and DVD, we get 18 new songs. Some of them are pretty special (The Way Young Lovers Do, Snow In San Anselmo, Bein' Green, Hard Nose The Highway, Since I Fell For You, Moonshine Whiskey), and some were obvious choices to leave off the original release (Hey Good Lookin', Buona Sera, Brown-Eyed Girl, Everyone). Additionally, there are multiple versions here of songs that appeared on the original release, with new versions of seven songs, two new versions of three songs, and three new versions of five songs. That's a lot of stuff we've heard before, even if these are different takes. Only two of the tracks from the original release (Warm Love and St. Dominic's Preview) are not included here on either CD or DVD.

The remastered recordings are good. They are not dramatically different from the original, but they are improved.

The DVD video quality is terrible. Even though the show was broadcast on the BBC, and as such should have been around in the original film quality, this looks like a third generation video transfer to me. Fuzzy images, poor overall contrast control, and just generally crummy video. The sound is fine.

How about the book? There are two paragraphs that extol the virtues of the performances and assure us that none of the versions here were on the original release. There are songwriting and production credits. No essays, no lengthy gushing over or dissection of the material. Nada. How lame is that? Totally lame.

You gotta want it bad. Should this remain the only way to get at those 18 other songs, well, then maybe you want it. Eight or even ten of the previously unheard songs are very good. If you enjoy comparing different performances to detect the "important" differences, you'll like this, since there is plenty opportunity for that game. If you like to watch a good DVD of classic rock performances, you can forget it.

I certainly cannot recommend it, unless you're obsessive about Van Morrison. Then it probably doesn't matter what I say anyway since you already own it.