Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl
pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound,
how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving
a brief overview of the music itself. For this latest instalment in the series
we’re checking out the recent Vinyl Me Please reissue of Van Morrison’s utter masterpiece ‘Veedon Fleece’.
Think of Van Morrison. What’s the first song that comes to mind? If it isn’t ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, then it’s probably ‘Into The Mystic’. If you think of an album, then it’s most likely to be ‘Astral Weeks’ or ‘Moondance’. Both masterpieces, of course – absolute classics by anyone’s measure. Unless you’re already well versed in Morrison’s discography, you’re perhaps less likely to think of ‘Veedon Fleece’. It’s an album that, for the longest time, was known only to Morrison’s aficionados and disciples. While the album has slowly been gaining fans, even now it’s an unduly obscure work in the man’s canon. Its relative obscurity is a real shame considering that, to put it bluntly, it might well be the single best album he’s ever recorded. Spiritually searching, creatively restless and artistically peerless, ‘Veedon Fleece’ possesses all the same qualities which make ‘Astral Weeks’ one of the all time greats, yet it also adds a newfound sense of perspective and maturity to the wild-eyed poetry of the latter. Every song is beautifully poised and meticulously measured, no less profound than the works of the poets that Morrison name-drops throughout the album (though particularly on the gorgeous opener ‘Fair Play’). Musically the record is something of a tour-de-force; it serves as testament to Morrison’s ability as a bandleader and as a finder of talent rather than as a musician himself. The musicality of moments such as ‘Streets Of Arklow’ manage to feel both tight and satisfying, yet also loose and free-form enough to allow a malleable platform for Morrison to demonstrate exactly why so many feel he had one of the greatest larynxes of all time. His acolytes have been singing the praises of this album for decades, but mostly to an empty house. Vinyl Me Please’s reissue of the album promises to awaken the wider music-listening public to what they’ve been missing out on – and not a moment too soon.
Vinyl Me Please can be relied on for an excellent vinyl release, so it’s no surprise that this is a really great quality reissue. Before we dive into the pressing itself, we should first get a little context. Originally released in 1974, ‘Veedon Fleece’has seen many vinyl pressings over the years, but only during the ’70s and ’80s. This new rerelease is the first time the album has been pressed to wax in about three decades, so it’s a long overdue a reissue – especially considering that every previous release tends to sport a pretty hefty price tag these days. Pressed by the Czech Republic’s GZ Media, this VMP release is by far the most luxurious edition of the album ever produced. Pressed onto 180 gram wax, the weight of this issue is almost certainly heavier than any previous release and our copy sits flat and warp-free on the platter during during playback. It’s also pressed on beautiful emerald green vinyl, which is a nice nod to Morrison’s homeland.
Playback is impressively clean across both sides, with clear sound that impresses in every respect. One of the biggest plusses here is the very low noise floor; so many stretches of the album are hushed reveries, and an audibly noisy pressing would spoil the ambience dreadfully. Fortunately, no such issues arise here and, in fact, playback is great quality throughout. The pressing is free of pops and clicks, but we did pick up on a few background crackles here and there – although nothing that we felt was at all intrusive or distracting. In regards to the cleanliness of the pressing, then, this is a definite winner from VMP and GZ. How about the mastering, though? Well, fortunately that is no less impressive. The album has been freshly remastered and sound is excellent throughout on this edition. The original release was nothing exemplary from a sonic perspective; it sounded fine, but it definitely didn’t fall into the ‘audiophile’ category. This new remaster takes a veil off the soundstage and really opens things up in a way that hasn’t been heard with this album on vinyl before. Morrison’s voice is present and powerful, but not so much so that the instrumental backing is played down by it. The bass is solid and well contained whilst still remaining full and rich and there’s a nice clarity in the piano and guitar parts. There’s a precision to the mastering that really suits the subtlety of the music and small touches – such as the brushes against the snare on ‘Fair Play’ – really come alive on this edition. All in all, then, this Vinyl Me, Please reissue is superb stuff and the best we’ve ever heard the album.
Packaging and presentation is really beautiful on this edition as well. One of the things we’ve been most consistently impressed by when reviewing VMP releases is their attention to detail in the presentation of their releases and that’s no different here. The cover is a very high quality US-style paste-on sleeve, manufactured from heavy-duty card. It looks beautiful and it feels just as good when being handled. A major plus to this reissue is the inclusion of a printed card inner sleeve with lyrics to the whole album. This is the first time such an insert has ever been included with ‘Veedon Fleece’; no previous version of the record has ever included a bespoke inner sleeve (or an insert of any kind) so that’s a really thoughtful inclusion here, especially considering how poetic the lyrics are on much of the album. The package is rounded by off by a large full-colour art print and an obi strip which includes both a short recipe for a drink (one of VMP’s signature inclusions on their releases) and also a short blurb about the album.
The packaging and presentation on this reissue is the best that ‘Veedon Fleece’ has ever seen and the sound is every bit as impressive. The remaster is clean, precise and direct and it’s complemented by an excellent pressing on attractively coloured vinyl. This could quite easily be the definitive edition of this truly brilliant album.
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