Van Morrison’s been phoning in his new albums for a half-dozen years now, but this one is new in UPC code only. It’s a more-than-welcome blast from the past: 30 outtakes and first drafts (26 of them previously unheard) from 1971 to ’88, when the R&B shouter-cum-Celtic seer could summon magic with a single growl.
There are a few false starts and toss-offs, but not many; The Philosopher’s Stone evokes Dylan, many of whose best songs have dribbled out years after they were cut. God knows why Morrison held some of this stuff back: the heartbreaking “Not Supposed to Break Down” (’73), for instance, or the viciously funky “Naked in the Jungle” (’75). A few tracks rival Morrison’s best released work. He may not have penned “Song of Being a Child” (Austrian writer Peter Handke did), but his reading of it induces goose bumps. Stone shows us how hard Morrison worked in his heyday, kneading a song until he had it the way he wanted it. These two CDs offer a sort of parallel universe: the unreleased flip side of the great Warner Bros. and Mercury albums that—until now—constituted Morrison’s legacy.
What else does he have lying around? A-