Sony Legacy/Exile Productions 88875134742
Format: CD/DVD

Musical Performance: *****
Sound Quality: ****1/2
Picture Quality: **1/2
Overall Enjoyment: ****1/2

When I saw that Van Morrison had released a set of the recordings from the shows used to form his legendary two-LP live set from 1974, I didn’t jump right away to buy it. The original set is so good I was afraid the new collection, three CDs and a DVD, would dilute what is justly considered to be one of the best live albums ever released. Luckily, a friend gave me ..It’s Too Late to Stop Now … Volumes II, III, IV & DVD for my recent birthday, and it is a stunning document of Morrison at his best with his finest live band.

Van Morrison

Although the original and new release contain some of the same songs, the performances are from different dates -- at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and the Troubadour in Southern California, and London’s Rainbow. Between the original and this new set, there are three different performances of “Listen to the Lion” and the ways Morrison plays with the song, emphasizing certain lines and varying the rhythmic readings, makes each one a fresh experience. The version of “I’ve Been Working” on this set is a hair faster than on the earlier release, and it’s funkier -- more in the style of James Brown. Morrison sounds great on both, but Jack Schroer’s sax solo swings harder and feels more relaxed on this newly released take.

Morrison was touring in support of Hard Nose the Highway (1973) at the time of these recordings. The performances on the live sets are more emotionally involving than their studio counterparts. “Wild Children” is on both the live sets, and in both cases it feels more fleshed out and lived in. The string arrangement on the new collection has more richness and depth, and Bill Atwood’s trumpet is better presented in the mix.

With this release, we now have three live versions of “Cyprus Avenue” from this series of concerts. To compare the three is to hear not only how Morrison takes each performance as a fresh opportunity to revisit one of his most memorable tunes from Astral Weeks, but how his band responds to the singer, feeding him support and inspiration. The Caledonia Soul Orchestra, Morrison’s 11-piece band, included a string quartet and was his best live ensemble to date. Later Morrison live recordings are more polished, but these are more dynamic and powerful.

Van Morrison

..It’s Too Late to Stop Now … Volumes II, III, IV & DVD give us a chance to hear Morrison singing “Since I Fell for You” and “Buona Sera” and to experience his reinterpretations of his own songs, including “Sweet Thing.” I have always liked his version of “Bein’ Green,” a tune from Sesame Street that he covered on Hard Nose the Highway, but the two performances on this set overshadow the studio recording.

The DVD is only VHS tape quality, but it is a pleasure to see Morrison and the band working. The singer closes his eyes and seems disengaged, but he has an undeniable stage presence that reaches an audience. ..It’s Too Late to Stop Now … was unique because it was not overdubbed. During the ’70s it was common for bands to correct mistakes on live recordings. Morrison’s live album kept the occasional flubs in place, and it made for a more honest album.

Guy Massey remixed from the original tapes, and Vic Anesini mastered ..It’s Too Late to Stop Now … Volumes II, III, IV & DVD. The instruments are more clearly delineated than on the earlier editions of the first set, and there is more bottom-end heft. Sony Legacy has also released a remaster of the earlier set (Sony Legacy 88986328282) that is a marked improvement over earlier CD releases, but it does not list any mastering credits. Both sets convey a much better sense of the dimensions of the halls where the music was recorded than the original LP.

If, like me, you have been deciding whether this set is necessary if you are a Van Morrison fan, the answer is an unequivocal “Yes!” Don’t wait a minute longer.

. . . Joseph Taylor