Review by Kevin Cooper

After 2017’s release of what can only be described as Van Morrison’s self-indulgent Authorised Bang Collection, those throwaway compositions later being known as Morrison’s ‘revenge songs’ it is always a tense moment whenever a rather exuberant and enigmatic Morrison takes a trip back in time and reaches out into his vault of archive recordings as he has with this latest offering, The Healing Game complete in its expanded form. 

However, this time all is good in the land of Van Morrison as this three CD package of one of his better latter known albums reaffirms an underlying theme, that being Morrison’s predilection for spontaneity.  It has to be said that The Healing Game is one of the most, if not the most, complete personal and musical statements in Morrison’s lengthy and hefty discography. 

The Healing Game was Morrison’s twenty-third studio album which contained a conservative ten tracks on its initial incarnation back in 1997 and it has to be said it served as a comeback of sorts for the Irish icon, as it recognised an important shift in Morrison’s career.  Up until its release Morrison had been both writing and crafting romantic ballads, exploring his own spirituality whilst releasing a number of live albums which had, in general, all achieved mainstream success in their own right.

However, it was at this stage in his career that Morrison felt compelled to revisit his jazz and rhythm and blues style that had both inspired and influenced his earliest work.  In an attempt to do this Morrison tapped into his soulful side with a sax section that was led by no other than Pee Wee Ellis, together with background vocals from Georgie Fame, with Morrison and Fame often heard accenting one another. 

Surprisingly, Sometimes We Cry was never recognised as one of Morrison’s major hits whilst it is one of his most moving compositions.  If you want to hear Morrison performing whilst at the top of his game then you only have to listen to the title track, The Healing Game which is gorgeous and appears no less than four times; there are three studio versions including an amazing duet with the late John Lee Hooker, plus a live version on this three CD package.

John Lee Hooker, Morrison’s mentor unfortunately only appears on two tracks; his collaboration on Don’t Look Back is both sublime and especially notable.  Skiffle master Lonnie Donegan makes an appearance on the second and faster version of Muleskinner Blues, which one can only assume was designed as a means for Morrison to get his creative juices flowing once again, and flow they did on songs such as Rough God Goes Riding and Fire In The Belly. 

On this release, Morrison is in fine form and on top of his game.  His polished vocals together with a more sympathetic view of his fellow players and performers are far removed from the incomprehensible and sometimes irrational behaviour that has plagued his tours over the years.  A dozen or so of the thirty-four previously unreleased recordings in this package, all sound as clean and fresh as the main album itself, and include alternate takes of some of the material on the record as originally released.

Highlights include high-spirited duets with artists who were considered to be role models of Morrison’s; the likes of Carl Perkins who appears on his own Matchbox and Boppin’ The Blues amongst others, including one which the pair co-wrote, My Angel.  In addition to the first disc’s remastered tracks, together with a few alternate recordings, the fifteen tracks of sessions and collaborations which comprise disc two, eleven of which have previously been unreleased, are sublime and especially delightful. 

Disc three of this 3-Disc Deluxe Edition is a previously unreleased eighty minute live show recorded back in July 1997 at Montreux.  Morrison is in top form throughout the show looking both invigorated and playful.  He scats on a few selections and even manages to gleefully yodel on Vanlose Stairway.  Almost half of the songs performed are Morrison’s live interpretations from The Healing Game, but this time they are all infused with a fresh injection of energy.

Undoubtedly, this previously unreleased live recording is both crisp and clear, making the viewer feel as though they are on stage with an unusually energized and extremely animated Morrison.  This really is Morrison firing on all cylinders.  The question that needs to be asked is just why this show has stayed hidden away in the vaults for so long.  However, that sadly remains unclear but it has to be pointed out that disc three alone is worth the price of this expanded edition of a truly wonderful Morrison gem that deserves the treatment so rightly being given to it in 2019. 

Legions of Morrison fans all around the globe are finally benefiting from this rush of releases that thankfully often find Morrison at his blistering best.  It was The Healing Game which pushed the Irish singer back into the limelight and found him, once again, to be a figure of enormous international interest together with musical importance.  This release once again hints at the sheer quality and significance of the music covered in this essential collection.

This collection truly is vintage Morrison doing what he does best, ripping it up in sensational manner, being totally soulful and always commanding.  The Healing Game comes in a deluxe package that is well worth checking out.  This truly is great music that both lives and breathes, enabling it to defy the years.

Our Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)