RECORDS / New Release: Van Morrison - A Night in San Francisco (Mercury, CD/ tape)

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The Independent Culture
Live albums are always tricky. Somehow the artist has to find a fourth dimension that makes the recording more than the re-creation of a show, and more than a stage version of a studio record. There are a few notable successes - by James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Solomon Burke, the Band, the Flying Burrito Bros, Talking Heads - but Van Morrison is probably the first artist to issue two classic live albums. In 1972, It's Too Late to Stop Now captured him at the top of his game with a band that featured a string quartet and encouraged experiment. A Night in San Francisco, by contrast, goes for the heart of the stuff that first inspired Morrison: rhythm and blues. He is in electrifyingly authoritative form, bringing all his experience to some of his finest songs. Morrison and guests - Georgie Fame, Candy Dulfer, Jimmy Witherspoon, Junior Wells, John Lee Hooker and two fine younger singers, Brian Kennedy and Shana Morrison - burn through medleys that blend things like 'Gloria' and 'Tupelo Honey' with snatches of 'All Along the Watchtower', 'Family Affair' and 'You Send Me'. These workouts are loose in terms of spontaneity, but there's not an inch of slack in their execution - and the climactic sequence of 'Moondance', 'My Funny Valentine' and 'No Guru, No Method, No Teacher' is as close to catharsis as anyone in this field has ever come. A perfect record, thrilling and inspiring on every level.

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