Even on less-celebrated Morrison works like Days Like This or 1987's Poetic Champions Compose, you can find yourself enraptured by the dense networks of interconnected images and allusions in his songs, struggling to make some mental geography out of the mystical yet entirely tangible places he frequently sings about: an ancient highway, a town called Paradise, the viaducts of his dreams. Nearly all of those tropes, however, date back to Astral Weeks, which begins with its first-person narrator venturing into the slipstream and ends some eight tracks later with the funereal assertion, "I know you're dying/And I know you know it, too/Every time I see you/I just don't know what to do."

But if Morrison has rarely seemed eager to look back over the course of his own discography, his music itself is very much about conjuring a personal and collective past, hovering just out of reach and threatening to displace the present. It's a feeling that extends to the myriad cover/tribute albums he's produced in the past fifteen years, honoring traditional country with Pay the Devil and jazz with How Long Has This Been Going On, while elsewhere tipping his porkpie hat to such influences as Mose Allison, Lonnie Donegan, John Lee Hooker and Solomon Burke. It is perhaps the highest compliment one can pay those albums to say that Morrison's original compositions are frequently indistinguishable from the "period" songs written by others decades earlier.

King of the Slipstream: Van Morrison, following all genres back to their sources.
EMI Music North America
King of the Slipstream: Van Morrison, following all genres back to their sources.

"Well, if you take it as a river, then it's got offshoots — this stream and that stream, north stream, south stream, slipstream. All sorts of streams, you know?" Morrison says. "But it's all connected to the source. All that stuff that I picked up in the formative years is what I've been able to put together as my own thing, so to speak. For me, it's [about] going back to the source. That's where I first got the word, or heard that sound."

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