Friday, 3 July 2015

“A Sense Of Wonder” by VAN MORRISON (2008 Polydor/Exile Expanded CD Remaster) - A Review By Mark Barry…

“…Gravy Rings, Wagon Wheels, Barnbracks, Snowballs…”

Originally released in February 1985 - "A Sense Of Wonder" followed after 1984s purely functional live set "Grand Opera House, Belfast" - and I remember was greeted at the time as a bit of a let down. "Wonder" occupies a three-star place in Van's five star ranks for most fans - but this new 2008 Remaster has gorgeous sound and two excellent bonus tracks to recommend it.In fact - on hearing the album afresh and with its spangly new additions - the whole shebang is better than I remember. Here are the gravy rings, wagon wheels, barnbracks and snowballs…

UK released 28 January 2008 (February 2008 in the USA) - "A Sense Of Wonder" by VAN MORRISON on Polydor/Exile 537 545-2 (Barcode 731453754522) pans out as follows:

1. Tore Down A La Rimbaud
2. Ancient Of Days
3. Evening Meditation
4. The Master’s Eyes
5. What Would I Do
6. A Sense Of Wonder [Side 2]
7. Boffyflow And Spike
8. If You Only Knew
9. Let The Slave (Incorporating The Price Of Experience)
10. A New Kind Of Man
Tracks 1 to 10 make up the original album "A Sense Of Wonder" - released 1984 in the UK on Mercury Records MERH 54 and in the USA on Mercury 822 895-1.

BONUS TRACKS (Previously Unreleased):
11. Crazy Jane On God (Alternate Take)
12. A Sense Of Wonder (Alternate Take)

As you can see from the track list above - "Crazy Jane On God" was never on the original "A Sense Of Wonder" album. It first appeared as an outtake on the 2CD retrospective set "The Philosopher's Stone - The Unreleased Tapes" from 1998 (all previously unreleased tracks). But like that 1998 version - this 'different' take has gorgeous sound quality and is a superlative bonus track.

The alternate version of the album title track fares less well though. It's easy to see why this 'starter' version of "A Sense Of Wonder" was left in the can. It's done in a slightly faster pace and at 6:08 minutes is shorter than the final album cut of 7:11 minutes. It's a good version of the song but ‘missing something’. That something was the truly fantastic contribution the Irish Folk-Rock band MOVING HEARTS made to the finished version. They’re not on this alternate take and it shows. What we do get is the lovely organ playing of JOHN ALLAIR featured throughout. With regard to the bonuses - I'm always wary of outtakes and alternate versions as extra material on reissue CDs that act as a cheap way of suckering fans into purchasing more of the same. But these two choices are inspired for the most part - and an absolute must-have for Van lovers.

The album contains two instrumentals - "Boffyflow And Spike" is fun - but "Evening Meditation" is much better - harking back to the stunning moody Celtic Mystique instrumentals on "Inarticulate Speech of the Heart" from 1983. But the album's spiritual masterpiece is the title track "A Sense Of Wonder” with Moving Hearts as backing musicians (they're also on "Boffyflow & Spike"). DAVY SPILLANE - Moving Hearts' virtuoso Uilleann pipe player (has over 8 solo albums on CD - check out "Shadow Hunter") adds truly heart-touching flourishes to the track while BIANCO THORNTON and PAULINE LAZANO on backing vocals perfectly match his playing (their vocals feature on six of the album's ten tracks). To this day the song brings blubbering tears to my Irish goggleboxes - Van at his best.

There are two covers on the album - "What Would I Do?" is a Ray Charles slow love song and is superbly and warmly delivered - but the R'n'B/Jazzy cover of Mose Allison's "If You Only Knew" seems out of place here. Van sounds like Georgie Fame on a very bad day and no matter how much he may love Allison's catalogue - this isn't a great song nor an inspired delivery of it. More successful is "Let The Slave” - Van's plaintive music put to the wonderful words of William Blake's "The Price Of Experience", with Bianca and Pauline Lazano once again adding great backing vocals. An overlooked gem called "A New Kind Of Man" finishes the album with both PEE WEE ELLIS and BOB DOLL providing lovely brass work in the background.

The upgraded booklet contains all the lyrics in the same 'leafy' style as the original vinyl album inner bag and reproduces the bewildering "Boffyflow And Spike" story, also on the inner sleeve. There's a brief list of who sessioned on what, but disappointingly there's no history of where the album fits in, no new liner notes, nor any photographs.  However, a nice touch is the lyrics to the alternate takes - the record company could have lazily left out "Crazy" and reproduced the 'same' lyrics for "Wonder" at the end of the booklet, but closer examination shows they haven't. The lyrics for "Crazy" are provided as are the free-forming words of the alternate "Wonder" - a nice touch.

But the best bit is definitely the SOUND. The original analogue master tapes have been 96K/24 Bit digitally remastered by Tim Young at Metropolis Mastering in London - and the sound is BEAUTIFULLY CLEAR and WARM - making you reassess every song and the superb musicianship on each as a wonderful 'new' surprise.

All in all - a quality reissue with a superb new remaster and an album I urge fans to return too…

PS: Van Morrison Remasters - Released and CANCELLED
Like "A Sense Of Wonder" - 28 other Van Morrison albums were to be reissued in remastered form throughout 2008 and into early 2009. Each contained upgraded booklets, previously unreleased material and all were pitched at mid-price. The first two batches were released (are now deleted, I've reviewed most) but the second two batches never appeared (and without explanation). The following lists are by way of info:

January 2008 (7 titles)
Tupelo Honey (1971), It's Too Late To Stop Now (2 CD Live Set) (1974),
Wavelenght (1979), Into The Music (1979), A Sense Of Wonder (1985),
Avalon Sunset (1989) and Back On Top (1999)

June 2008 (8 titles)
Veedon Fleece (1974), Common One (1980), Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart (1983), Live At The Grand Opera House, Belfast (1984), No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986), Enlightenment (1990), A Night In San Francisco (2CD Live Set) (1994) and The Healing Game (1997)

September 2008 (7 titles) - CANCELLED
Saint Dominic's Preview (1972), A Period Of Transition (1977), Beautiful Vision (1982), Poetic Champions Compose (1987), Hymns To The Silence (2CD Studio Set) (1991), How Long Has This Been Going On (Live At Ronnie Scott's) (1995), Tell Me Something - The Songs Of Mose Allison (1996)

January 2009 (8 titles) - CANCELLED
Hard Nose The Highway (1973), Irish Heartbeat (with The Chieftains) (1988),
Too Long In Exile (1993), Days Like This (1995), The Story Of Them (2CD Set) (1999), The Skiffle Sessions - Live In Belfast (with Lonnie Donegan & Chris Barber) (2000), Down The Road (2002) and What's Wrong With This Picture? (2003)

I've review most of Batches 1 and 2, the 2CD DELUXE EDITION of "Moondance" and the superb 60ts set "The Bang Masters"...

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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