LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks" rests high on critics' lists of all-time best albums. Yet Morrison felt he never quite had the chance to get it right the first time.
So he has taken a second crack at it with "Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl," recorded over two nights last November with musical arrangements closer to what he originally envisioned.
"I didn't do exactly what I wanted to, because I didn't have the support, and I didn't have any money. I mean, basically, I was broke. I had bad management, a bad record company," Morrison, 63, said in a phone interview from London. "I didn't really have the freedom."
Newly signed to Warner Bros. in 1968 after extricating himself from a painful previous record deal, Morrison cut "Astral Weeks" during a handful of studio sessions mostly using jazz musicians with whom he had never worked.
Fans would call the results sublime, an introspective masterpiece blending Morrison's jazz, blues, classical and folk influences. But with its dreamy, freeform structure and half of its eight songs topping seven minutes, "Astral Weeks" confounded an industry built on catchy three-minute singles such as Morrison's earlier hits "Gloria" and "Brown-Eyed Girl."
Morrison said he had no backing for a proper tour to promote the album, which sold only modestly at first.
As Morrison followed with such radio-friendly singles as "Moondance," "Domino" and "Jackie Wilson Said," critics continued to talk up "Astral Weeks," which gradually took on an almost mythical aura.
New fans would discover the album, and audiences still call out for "Cyprus Avenue," "Ballerina" or the title track from "Astral Weeks," songs played here and there when the album first came out but only rarely since.
Morrison decided it was time to pull out those tunes again and play the entire album live, with a full string section.
He enlisted musicians he had worked with before, including guitarist Jay Berliner, who played on the original "Astral Weeks" album. In keeping with the loose studio sessions that produced the original record, Morrison and his collaborators got together only once to rehearse the live concert.
"Not even a rehearsal. Just kind of a run-through. We just ran through a few songs and then did the gig. I'm not a rehearsal-type person," Morrison said. "Everybody was under the right kind of pressure. ... Everybody had to be on their toes and had to be there, had to be totally present. It was done under pressure, but the pressure turned out to be good pressure."
For the live shows, Morrison shuffled the song order. Rather than "Slim Slow Slider," the spare, downbeat number that ends the 1968 album, Morrison closed with the fan favorite, "Madame George."
"I just wanted to finish on an uptempo song," Morrison said. "That has been the most-requested from that album over the years from the audience, the one they want to hear, so that's why we ended on that one."
"Madame George" is emblematic of the album, citing Cyprus Avenue, the grand street of luxurious homes near the working-class Belfast neighborhood where Morrison grew up. The lyrics are cryptic and pensive, relating youthful visions of "kids out in the street collecting bottle tops" or "throwing pennies at the bridges down below."
"Basically, it's short stories, it's fiction, and it means something different to each person who listens to it," Morrison said. "I was writing it from the collective unconscious, what I was picking up at that particular time, in the '60s, late '60s. So I was just picking this stuff up, like, psychically or however you want to put it.
"That's kind of why it's called `Astral Weeks,' you know?" Morrison added with a laugh.
Morrison is following the album, due out Feb. 24 as the first release of his own Listen to the Lion label, with more live performances of "Astral Weeks" in New York in late February and early March.
A concert film of his Hollywood Bowl performances also is planned on DVD this year, and Morrison said he might perform the album at future live shows.
Fans often call "Astral Weeks" a transcendent record, and Morrison used the same word to describe the vibe he felt among the players and audience at the Hollywood Bowl shows.
"We did the songs and took them somewhere else. Transcended the originals, if you know what I mean," Morrison said. "They were so fresh. I could approach it, and I could sort of do it the way I wanted to do it with the orchestration. Because like I said, originally, I couldn't afford the orchestration, so because of that, it was such a bad experience at the time, I sort of buried it in my own mind. ...
"So I guess I just got around to it, brought it out of the box. And why should all these other people be getting all this kind of mileage out of it? I need to be doing this myself. ... For instance, there's been a lot of requests to use the material in movies, so if I can give them my version, my production, rather than Warner Bros., then that's obviously better for me, you know? There's a lot of different sides to this story."
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