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Digging through Van Morrison’s catalog for undervalued gems

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Van Morrison
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Jason P. Woodbury

Van Morrison didn’t name his landmark 1974 live album It’s Too Late to Stop Now without reason. Chief among the Irish soul singer’s defining qualities is his prolific consistency (along with his famously grouchy countenance). Even the most devoted Van fans have likely lost track a couple times over the 36 studio albums he has released during the past 50 years. Everyone knows the essentials—“Brown Eyed Girl,” Astral Weeks, Moondance—but digging deeper into his lesser-known works yields surprising discoveries.

Veedon Fleece (1974) Cherished among the hardcore, this one leans hard into a hazy, jazz folk. Written in the wake of his divorce, it’s Morrison’s Blood on the Tracks, but even more impressionistic. “Fair Play” burns slow like a stick of incense, while “Bulbs” boasts a pulsing, country-rock quality recalling The Band. Mid-album cut “You Don’t Pull No Punches, but You Don’t Push the River” best exemplifies the vibe of the album, employing a loose, experimental feel.

Wavelength (1978) Electric and gilded by guitars and synthesizers, Morrison’s 10th album steers toward the glossy side, stepping into the adult-pop terrain of Dire Straits or Steely Dan. But the extra spit and shine doesn’t detract from sensitive performances, chiefly the swooning “Santa Fe,” co-written with Jackie DeShannon, and album closer “Take It Where You Can Find It,” a poetic ramble about American identity and spiritual searching.

Common One (1980) Featuring long-form compositions (both “Summertime in England” and “When the Heart Is Open” clock in at over 15 minutes), Common One incorporates smoky jazz ambience and meditative grace, dipping into the same kind of loose blend of psychedelia and R&B heard on the mysterious and oft-circulated “Caledonia Soul Music” bootleg studio outtake. Guest Mark Isham makes his presence on synth and trumpet known, adding New Age textures to Van’s growls and murmurs.

Hymns to the Silence (1991) The gospel songs on this double-album—“Be Thou My Vision,” “By His Grace,” “See Me Through, Part 2”—find Morrison in faithful repose, but best of all is “I’m Not Feeling It Anymore,” a gently grumpy look back. “I was pretending all the time/I was givin’ everybody what they wanted/And I lost my peace of mind,” Morrison sings, his voice knowing and worn in.

Keep Me Singing (2016) Morrison’s latest proves he hasn’t lost his signature verve (opener “Let It Rhyme” begins with the kiss-off couplet, “Put another coin in the wishing well/Tell everybody got to go to hell”). Featuring his signature blend of soul, blues, country and Celtic folk, Morrison spends the record digging into mysteries of faith and duty, his cranky humor firmly intact. “Keep me singing/While I’m winning,” he sings, noting that even at 71 he’s still “waiting on my changes to come.”

Van Morrison January 13-14, 8 p.m., $57-$257. The Colosseum, 866-227-5938.

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