Van Morrison: Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1983)

Van Morrison was at a crossroad in his career in the early 1980s. He was a long way from “Domino” and “Brown Eyed Girl.” His American record company was about cut ties with him.

Not to worry, Morrison would have a rebirth a few years later, but in the meantime, this album wouldn’t provide any hit singles or million album sales.

I’m not even sure this album advanced his career because even many critics were unkind in their reviews. Inarticulate Speech of the Heart is a cool album, it’s full of musical soundscapes of jazz and Celtic influenzas, something Morrison had in his heart but had used sparingly on his albums, until now.

Almost a forgotten album, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart takes listeners to the deepest, most inward areas of Van Morrison‘s renegade Irish soul, the culmination of his spiritual jazz period and also — perhaps not coincidentally — the last record he made for Warner Bros. – Allmusic review

Morrison wasn’t just a radio singles guy. His music had a lot soul and it found every conceivable style of music to get out. To say this was a spiritual set of music would be correct, from his soul. This was not the first time he chose to record a soft and lilting, almost New Age like song style to express a musical idea, but the first time for an entire album. You don’t have to buy into Morrison’s sense of the mystical or his spiritual philosophy to enjoy the album.

If you are looking for upbeat pop songs, there are much better choices from the Morrison catalogue. This album did not crack the top 100 albums on the chart.  Since his very commercially successful album, Wavelength in 1978, Morrison had been making this gradual turn away from his familiar R&B influenced work. Prolific, Morrison returned every year with another album of new material.  Every so often he would score with “Have I Told You Lately” or “Real, Real Gone” or “Queen of the Slipstream” hauntingly, beautiful songs.

The songs here are mostly breathy, dreamy in nature.  Morrison opts for numerous instrumental tracks, and several vocal tracks where the vocals are textural in nature.  Only a couple of songs are more traditional pop songs, mostly these are folk songs arranged for pop instruments, meditational and somber in style.  Morrison has the vocal chops to extend notes and use his voice much like an instrument.  Like the image on the album cover, the notes float and soar through the air on a journey of spiritual enlightenment.

So, why pick an album like this to represent what I like about Van Morrison? It’s an album of beautiful textures. He was a great sense of melodic composition across many different styles of music: jazz, folk, Celtic, pop, he blends them expertly.

All songs written by Morrison.

“Higher than the World” 3:42  Perhaps the best song on the album, beautiful and haunting.  Heartfelt and very accessible. A great guitar solo. A classic Morrison song.

“Connswater” 4:09  A midtempo Celtic jaunt, with flutes and pipes. An instrumental.

“River of Time” 3:02 A more traditional Morrison, soft R&B song, with an underlying Celtic heart.

“Celtic Swing” 5:03  A slow traveling, jazzy treat, embracing Morrison’s Celtic background. Another instrumental.

“Rave On, John Donne” 5:12  Slow, dreamy, spoken word, turning into a great vocal performance.  The music is beautiful.  The second best song on the album.  Mesmerizing saxophone solo.

“Inarticulate Speech of the Heart No. 1” 4:53  An instrumental, soft and willowy like the morning mist rolling over the pasture.

“Irish Heartbeat” 4:40 A more traditional folk song, with a dash of his R&B style.

“The Street Only Knew Your Name” 3:36  A straight-forward midtempo song, less Celtic dressing, the beauty shines through.

“Cry for Home” 3:44 Upbeat and rousing song, Morrison shines with the addition of background singers.

“Inarticulate Speech of the Heart No. 2” 3:53  A vocal version, not nearly as good as the instrumental version.

“September Night” 5:16  Another swirling jazzy delight.  Atmospheric.  An instrumental, with only the occasional background vocals.

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