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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

A little more than 40 years ago, Van Morrison released his second album, "Astral Weeks." It never broke the Billboard charts, but music critics consider it one of the best pop albums ever made.

Last November, for the first time in his career, Van Morrison revisited the whole album in two concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. A CD of those performances is out today, and critic Tom Moon has our review.

U: Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you, "Astral Weeks."

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

TOM MOON: When a rock icon dusts off a bit of his ancient history, a reasonable first reaction is to brace oneself because chances are, beloved memories are about to be messed with and possibly trampled. Incredibly, that's not what happened when Van Morrison returned to "Astral Weeks."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ASTRAL WEEKS")

BLOCK: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

MOON: Here we have Van Morrison, the grand master of the off-the-cuff ad-lib, re-imagining songs that weren't terribly scripted in the first place. The musicians involved in the original sessions recalled that they got very little direction. Their job was to simply follow Morrison as he ambled through verse after expansive verse.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BESIDE YOU")

BLOCK: (Singing) Past the brazen footsteps of the silence easy. Then you breathe in, you breathe out. You breathe in, you breathe out. You breathe in, you breathe out. And you're high on your high-flying cloud, wrapped up in your magic shroud as ecstasy surrounds you. This time, it's found you. You turn around, you turn around. You turn around, turn around, and I'm beside you.

MOON: Van Morrison recorded "Astral Weeks" at a low point in his life. He'd had a hit the year before, "Brown Eyed Girl," but made little money off it. Broke and desperate to escape an onerous contract, he wound up in a New York recording studio with a small group of jazz musicians.

Over just a few days, they created music of uncommon openness that occupies a middle ground between rock and jazz. That openness, the sense of exploration, is evident on the Hollywood Bowl recordings as well, even though Morrison added more musicians and busier arrangements.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SWEET THING")

BLOCK: (Singing) (Unintelligible). We shall walk and talk in gardens all misty wet, misty wet with rain. Na, and shall never grow so old again. Whoa, whoa, sweet thing.

MOON: Van Morrison wrote the songs of "Astral Weeks" when he was in his early 20s. His lyrics are sometimes cryptic and full of lofty, romantic notions about love and loss. At times, it's like he's trying to get control over memories that just won't leave him alone. But this live recording is hardly some nostalgic look back at these songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WAY YOUNG LOVERS DO")

BLOCK: (Singing) Then we sat on our own star and dreamed of the way that we were and the way that we wanted to be.

MOON: Listen to the fire in Morrison's voice as he sings "The Way Young Lovers Do." He's tapped into the spirit of the original, yet he's totally in the moment, still seeking, anxious to learn what this old song might teach him and us, right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WAY YOUNG LOVERS DO")

BLOCK: (Singing) And then we danced the night away. Turned to each other...

BLOCK: Our critic is Tom Moon. He reviewed the latest album from Van Morrison, "Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl." You can hear songs from the album at nprmusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WAY YOUNG LOVERS DO")

BLOCK: (Singing) (Unintelligible). The way that young lovers do.

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