Avalon Sunset is the nineteenth studio album by Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison. It was released in 1989 by Mercury Records to both commercial and critical success.
On 9 January 2008, Avalon Sunset was reissued and remastered, featuring an alternative take of "Whenever God Shines His Light" and a version of "When the Saints Go Marching In" with additional lyrics by Morrison.
This album was recorded in England at Woodhall Studio, Eden Studio, Olympic Studio, Westside Studio, and Townhouse Studio. It marked the first appearance with Morrison of Georgie Fame, who played the Hammond organ and also provided backup vocals and helped direct the band. Morrison and Fame would work together for most of the nineties.
The all new songs were rehearsed in two days and then recorded in another two days. Arty McGlynn (the guitarist) remarked about the band's feelings when the sessions ended "we still don't know if it's an album, or maybe a demo for an album." Morrison's reliance on spontaneity was evident on "Daring Night" where he can be heard calling out chord changes "one-four, one-four" (Gmaj to Cmaj) to Roy Jones near the song's ending. The album was previewed at a private concert at Ronnie Scott's club on 24 May 1989.
On Avalon Sunset, Rob Sheffield wrote, Morrison sang about God and love in a scat-influenced style, set against a musical backdrop of mellow folk rock. According to Donald Clarke, the album combined "religiosity and Celtic feeling, a sort of superior New Age music".
The album opens with "Whenever God Shines His Light", issued as a successful single that charted at #20 in the U.K. and was a duet with Cliff Richard. "Contacting my Angel" is actually about a woman's presence not the more heavenly kind. On "I'd Like to Write Another Song" the singer conveys a feeling that writer's block seems to make living not worthwhile and makes a subtle joke by saying if he could only write another song: "In poetry I'd carve it well / I'd even make it rhyme/" but then doesn't by pairing it with "mind".
The album contains the religious ballad "Have I Told You Lately", which became a hit single for Morrison, reaching #12 on the Adult Contemporary Charts and was a bigger hit for Rod Stewart in 1993. Often thought to be a romantic ballad, a close listen to the lyrics confirms that this song, in common with many on this album, is actually a love song to God. This song was again released on Morrison's 2007 album, Van Morrison at the Movies - Soundtrack Hits.
The song "Coney Island" is set in a resort area in Northern Ireland and tells of a perfect day with a loved one and talk of "potted herring" and ending with the spoken words, "Wouldn't it be great if it was like this all the time?". The song "I'm Tired Joey Boy" has a pastoral setting and was originally written as a poem, Morrison has said. On a later song "When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God" the certainties of faith are questioned. The song "Orangefield" takes the singer back to schooldays and falling in love for the first time with an idyllic female that Brian Hinton compares to Beatrice in the Divine Comedy.
It has often been said to be Morrison's most spiritual album, but contains songs exploring more earthy pleasures such as "Coney Island" and "Daring Night". "Daring Night" is explicitly sensual with words of "And the bodies move and we sweat/And have our being/" and was originally recorded as an instrumental for the album Beautiful Vision. The album closes with "These Are the Days" which finds the singer lost in the moment with words of "There is no past, there's only future; There's only here, there's only now".
Avalon Sunset was one of Morrison's most commercially successful albums, and his fastest-selling record in the United Kingdom, being certified gold soon after its release. The album was also met with critical acclaim. In a review for The Village Voice, Robert Christgau said Morrison has found new inspiration in more temporal themes, especially on the album's first side, although he cited the redemption-themed "Whenever God Shines His Light" as his most exuberant song since 1982's "Cleaning Windows". Spin magazine's Karen Schoemer called it an elegantly orchestrated record void of pain: "He celebrates nature, love and poetry too; this is contemplation without conflict, remembrances without bitterness. And no matter how esoteric things get, a charged sensuality permeates." In the Chicago Tribune, Greg Kot said "I'd Love to Write Another Song" is a return to his 1960s and 1970s peak on what is an otherwise good showcase for his insightful vocal delivery of simple yet evocative lyrics and a style of music that "strikes an artful middle ground between the visceral joys of Top 40 and the soothing aural wallpaper of New Age."
At the end of 1989, Christgau named Avalon Sunset the 22nd best album of the year in his list for the annual Pazz & Jop critics poll. The Times ranked it 63rd their 1993 list of "All Time Top 100 Albums". In The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (2006), Colin Larkin wrote that the record featured "quite immaculate love songs" from Morrison, along with a prominent sense of spirituality and nostalgia throughout, while Morrison biographer Erik Hage called it "a powerful statement [showing] the often turbulent muse had stabilized and was now a sublime force flowing through Van Morrison". AllMusic's Jason Ankeny was less enthusiastic and found it somewhat inconsistent but "nevertheless the work of a master craftsman, its lush orchestration and atmospheric production casting an irresistibly elegant spell".
All songs written by Van Morrison, except where noted.
- "Whenever God Shines His Light" (Duet with Cliff Richard) – 4:58
- "Contacting My Angel" – 4:57
- "I'd Love to Write Another Song" – 2:52
- "Have I Told You Lately" – 4:20
- "Coney Island" – 2:00
- "I'm Tired Joey Boy" – 2:29
- "When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God" – 5:38
- "Orangefield" – 3:50
- "Daring Night" – 6:10
- "These Are the Days" – 5:08
Van Morrison - vocal, guitar, producer
Alan Barnes - baritone saxophone
Clive Culbertson - bass
Neil Drinkwater - accordion, piano, synthesizer
Dave Early - drums, percussion
Cliff Hardie - trombone
Roy Jones - drums, percussion
Carol Kenyon - backing vocals
Katie Kissoon - backing vocals
Henry Lowther - trumpet
Arty McGlynn - guitar
Stan Sulzmann - alto saxophone
Steve Pearce - bass guitar
Cliff Richard - vocal on "Whenever God Shines His Light"
Georgie Fame - Hammond organ
- "Whenever God Shines His Light" – 3:51 (Alternative take)
- "When the Saints Go Marching In" – 6:01 (Traditional, arr. by Morrison)