The Philosopher's Stone

Van Morrison's music has always had a timeless quality, and on The Philosopher's Stone — a generally stellar collection of previously unreleased material, alternate versions and rarities — we discover one reason why. It turns out that Van is a man who will serve no song before its time. For example, "Real Real Gone" — a swinging highlight of 1990's Enlightenment album — turns up here on an island-flavored take from 1980. "Wonderful Remark," which graced the 1983 King of Comedy soundtrack, is heard in an extended eight-minute version recorded way back in 1973.

The highs on this two-CD, thirty-track collection are high indeed, including a magnificent early version of "The Street Only Knew Your Name," "Out on the Western Plains," "High Spirits" (a collaboration with the Chieftains) and "I Have Finally Come to Realise." There's an unforced, earthy funkiness to much of the stuff here — check out "Street Theory," with Mark Isham on trumpet, or "Naked in the Jungle" — that in recent years Morrison has sometimes downplayed as he moves deeper into the mystic.

Sure, there are a couple of songs that arguably deserved their previous obscurity — the meandering "Showbusiness," for instance, is one of Morrison's grouchy numbers lamenting the downside of his chosen trade, a theme more profitably explored here on "Drumshanbo Hustle." Still, Morrison's leftovers make for a pretty substantial and soulful musical meal. The fact that much of The Philosopher's Stone's material didn't originally make the cut is proof that Van has never graded on a curve.