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3.4 out of 5 stars7
3.4 out of 5 stars
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Released in February 1985, "A Sense Of Wonder" followed after 1984's 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 28 January 2008 REMASTER has REALLY GREAT SOUND and excellent bonus tracks, and on hearing both the album again with it new additions, these songs are better than I remembered them. Maybe its time to push that 3-Star rating up to 4!

Here's how it's laid out: Tracks 1 to 10 make up the original album with Tracks 11 and 12 being previously unreleased alternate takes of "Crazy Jane On God" and "A Sense Of Wonder". "Crazy Jane On God" was never on the original album; it first appeared as an outtake on the 2CD set "The Philosopher's Stone - The Unreleased Tapes" from 1998 (all previously unreleased tracks). Like that 1998 version, this different take has GORGEOUS sound quality - 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, it's shorter than the final album version of 7:11 minutes. It's a good version of the song - it is - but it's missing something. That something was the truly fantastic contribution MOVING HEARTS made to the finished version. MH are not on this cut, and it shows. Still, what we do have is the lovely organ playing of JOHN ALLAIR featuring throughout and while it's absolutely not as good as the uplifting final, it's nonetheless an excellent addition here. I'm always wary of outtakes and alternate versions as bonus material on re-issue CDs that act as a cheap way of suckering fans to 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 centre and masterpiece is the title track "A Sense Of Wonder". MOVING HEARTS, an Irish band both famous and beloved for its mixture of Rock, Irish folk and incendiary politics, feature as backing musicians on it (they're also on "Boffyflow & Spike"). DAVY SPILLANE, Moving Hearts' virtuoso UiIeann pipe player, adds truly heart-touching flourishes to the track, which combines with BIANCO THORNTON and PAULINE LAZANO on backing vocals to perfectly matched effect (their vocals feature on six of the album's ten tracks). To this day, the track brings 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. 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 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. This is the 4th CD I've bought in this series (see separate reviews for "Tupelo Honey", "Wavelength" and "Into The Music") and they've all been revelations so far. And this album too - a nice "new" surprise.

All in all, a SUPERB REMASTER then and one I urge fans to give another chance to.

PS:
Like "A Sense Of Wonder", 28 other Van Morrison albums are to be re-issued in remastered form throughout 2008 and into early 2009. Each will contain upgraded booklets, previously unreleased material and all will be at mid-price. They'll be released in 4 batches as follows (29 in total):

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)
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)
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)

PPS:
Those hoping to see desperately needed sonic upgrades of his 1st and 2nd album masterpieces on Warner Bothers "Astral Weeks" (1968) and "Moondance" (1970) or even "His Band & The Street Choir" (late 1970) will be disappointed to hear that they're NOT in this re-issue campaign. Apparently there is still some dispute between the record label and Van that remains unresolved. A damn shame! "Astral Weeks" and "Moondance" in particular have both been languishing around on crappy-sounding non-remastered CDs for over 20 years now and they're glaringly obvious omissions in this supposedly 'extensive' re-issue campaign. These universally recognized masterpieces deserve 2CD DELUXE EDITION treatment and soon. (Some tracks in remastered form are available across the 3 volumes of "Best Of"). Let's hope they sort their differences and soon!

Also, Van's new studio album "Keep It Simple" is due in March 2008
0Comment|8 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Sense Of Wonder is not generally considered one of Morrison's essential albums, although it sounds ever better with the passing of time. Tore Down a la Rimbaud and Ancient Of Days are beautiful mid tempo ballads, the latter with intricate instrumental patterns, whilst Evening Meditation is a slow devotional number with wordless humming, a beautiful mood piece.

The Master's Eyes is another slow hymn with enchanting jangling guitar infusions and the title track is a spacey ballad embellished by impressive female voices and some spoken vocals by Van towards the end. The pace picks up for Boffyflow & Spike, an energetic Celtic jig instrumental. With its lovely organ and sax twirls and jerky, jazzy rhythm, If You Only Knew comes closest to Van's unique style of R&B.

Let The Slave is a meandering philosophical piece incorporating The Price Of Experience, a piece of spoken poetry, whilst A New Kind Of Man is a melodic outing. Although Sense Of Wonder is by no means one of Morrison's most prominent works, I find much to enjoy here. This re-release has been enhanced by the addition of Crazy Jane and another version of the title track.
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Taking his cue from the French poet Rimbaud, Van Morrison produced some of the most visionary, literate and evocative songs of his career in this welcome re-release from 1985.

From acknowledging the influences of Rimbaud on the opening track, through the mystic "Ancient Of Days", the spiritualism of "The Master's Eyes" and the philosophical "A Sense Of Wonder" he continues his quest to understand himself and the world around him. The quest embraces "The Slave" incorporating "The Voice Of Experience" by William Blake.

The music has a religious grandeur to it with stirring arrangements, strong melodies and Van's voice full of strength and emotion. Packed with sax, horns, organ, trumpet and Van's own piano, the songs are inspirational. Just two female singers add striking choral effects that heighten the sense of wonder.

With a nod to his rhythm and blues influences the album includes two compositions by Ray Charles and Mose Allison in which Van imparts his very own brand of Celtic Soul.

How do you begin to understand what drives Van Morrison to bare his soul with such a dark intensity? Sit back and let the music envelope you and then, perhaps, a glimmer of light will begin to shine.
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on 5 July 2008
I'm listening to the new remaster now and it's like discovering a hidden treasure. It's low key, serious and moving, with one of his most adventurous pieces, "Let the slave..", using a William Blake poem as both lyrics and as a poem in it's own right. I don't want to dig at people, but do some reviewers listen to an album more than once before rating it? More difficult, less accessible than some of his albums - but does that make it bad? And it's anything but boring. Finally, the title track is five minutes of heaven trapped on a CD.
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on 2 September 2009
Van Morrison is a prolific musician and had experimented with many styles and musicial forms over the years. I last saw him perform in 2006 and he was amazing playing with a full band at Northampton and doing 2 sets back to back - one at 6pm and one at 8pm on a saturday night. Van can play anything. This album came out in 1985 and has a distinct link to Nature, the countryside, Ireland and ecology. In fact much of the music on the album reflected his involvement with the Wrekin trust an organisation dedicated to Man, Nature and Spirit. Here Van expresses the healing power of Music in numbers like Beautiful Vision and A Sense of Wonder. Also we hear the Celts rise up in his music as well as the Poets, Rimbaud and John Donne. Listen to Ancient of Days and A New Kind of Man to see his quest for spiritual growth. Let the Slave, is also his vision of a William Blake poem. This music drifts, is pensive and reflective and shows his belief in a higher power. Although often instrumental he demands that you listen and tune into the flow of the album which is uplifting and warm.
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on 28 July 2013
I ordered the remastered version with extra tracks. This was not it. Did not receievd what was ordered. Very disappointed.
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on 22 January 2008
There are only three good songs on this album; the title track, a Mose Allison cover called If You Only Knew and an instrumental called Evening Meditation.

It's difficult to explain why I don't like it. The best I can come up with is that it's boring. I know that's no use to you but it's all I can say. I've heard the album a few times and I've never enjoyed it. I think it came out at a time when his inspiration was running out. Too many songs echo older, better songs from his previous work.

The bonus track Crazy Jane On God (it's on the Philosopher's Stone rarities album) is a great track with excellent female backing vocals.
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