Pitchfork (Website) - "Van Morrison discovers his peak as a performer. The band builds an environment; Morrison wanders through all of its available space."
Personnel: John Platania (guitar); Tom Halpin, Nathan Rubin, Tim Kovatch (violin); Nancy Ellis (viola); Terry Adams (cello); Jack Schroer (alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone); Bill Atwood (trumpet); Jeff Labes (piano, organ); David Hayes (bass guitar); Dave Shaw (drums).
Audio Mixer: Neil Schwartz.
Recording information: Santa Monica Civic, California (05/23/1973); The Rainbow, London (05/23/1973); The Troubadour, Los Angeles (05/23/1973); Santa Monica Civic, California (06/29/1973); The Rainbow, London (06/29/1973); The Troubadour, Los Angeles (06/29/1973); Santa Monica Civic, California (07/23/1973/07/24/1973); The Rainbow, London (07/23/1973/07/24/1973); The Troubadour, Los Angeles (07/23/1973/07/24/1973).
Director: Tom Burleigh.
Photographers: Ed Caraeff; Ginny Winn; David Warner Ellis; Ian Dickson; Chris Walter; Gijsbert Hanekroot; Michael Putnam.
When Van Morrison's double-length It's Too Late to Stop Now was released in 1974, it was an anomaly. Compiled from eight nights on his 1973 tour with his 11-piece Caledonia Soul Orchestra, it appeared months prior to Hard Nose the Highway. Contrary to standard industry practice of the time, its contents weren't doctored in the studio afterwards: There were no added overdubs or masked flubs. Some critics took issue with its sound -- claiming the band, particularly the horns, were too thin -- but there was no debate about the performances. It remains revered as one of the greatest concert recordings ever.
Sony Legacy has appended the original album by releasing a separate box set that includes three audio discs from those gigs and a live DVD set divided by concert. These are newly issued tracks, containing no overlaps with the original album. Some song selections may be the same, but these are completely different performances. Volume II is drawn from L.A.'s Troubadour in May 1973, Vol. III from Santa Monica Civic Center in June, and Volume IV compiled from two nights in July at London's Rainbow Theater. Guy Massey's remix offers stellar sound. There is a lot more balance between horns and strings, more emphasis on piano and lead guitar, while bass and drums are set just behind Morrison's vocals. Compilation producer Andrew Sandoval took great care in assembling the contents. He provides enough variation in selection with some wonderfully contrasting performances of various tunes, whether they be originals or covers. (Compare the versions of Ray Charles' "I Believe to My Soul," Willie Dixon's "I Just Want to Make Love to You," "Cypress Avenue," "Caravan," and "Domino" with one another.) Night to night, these tunes undergo shifts in vocal syncopation and improvisation, musical dynamic, and even tempo. The version of "I've Been Working" included here, a highlight on the original album, is revelatory in displaying the level of spontaneity and intensity Morrison and band were capable of on any given night. From his own catalog, "Brown Eyed Girl," "Come Running," and "Snow in San Anselmo," from Volume II; Volume III's "I Paid the Price," "Moonshine Whiskey," and "Wild Night," and Volume IV's "Domino," "Listen to the Lion," "Sweet Thing," and "Wild Children" are all standouts. The live DVD contains nine selections from the Rainbow. While this was taped by the BBC, it is not a replica of the oft-bootlegged simulcast -- it's shorter by three tracks, but it's superior in every other way.
This package confirms in spades what Morrison himself always claimed: That he was not a rock singer but a jazz, blues, and R&B one. While most artists from the era were trying to distance themselves from the roots that birthed rock & roll, he was celebrating them -- without nostalgia -- as living, breathing traditions worthy of deeper exploration and exposition. It's Too Late to Stop Now...Vols. II, III, IV and DVD is an essential document for hardcore Morrison fans. ~ Thom Jurek