Sunday, 29 July 2018

Van Morrison - A Sense Of Wonder (1985)


  

Released in 1985

Van Morrison's three early/mid eighties albums, "Beautiful Vision", "Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart" and this, 1985's "A Sense Of Wonder" follow a similar pattern - some copper-bottomed, piledriving slices of horn-driven Celtic soul, some tranquil, floaty instrumentals and some laid-back, spiritual almost recitations, where Van is in earnest pursuit of the unknowable. The albums are wrapped up in a desire to reconcile the quest of the Celtic soul, his Irishness and his infinite quest for spiritual fulfilment. These are very much his "new age" albums - full of name checks of poets, philosophers, philosophies, doctrines, mystics and his favourite R'n'B/country/jazz artists. There very personal albums and set the tone, in many ways, for the forthcoming albums over the subsequent three decades. Van sets out his message, whether you want to listen or not. It all started here, far more than on his seventies work, which tended to vary from album to album. Morrison himself stated at the time that his music was now increasingly intended "as a means for inducing contemplation and for healing and uplifting the soul...'. It has always baffled me how such sensitivity was often expressed, particularly via his lyrics and music, by a man who, at times was so "difficult" and even boorish, rude and truculently sulky. He truly is one of the great living conundrums.

TRACK LISTING

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
7. Boffyflow And Spike
8. If You Only Knew
9. Let The Slave
10. A New Kind Of Man

The opener, "Tore Down A la Rimbaud" is one of those punchy Celtic soul classics interwoven with literary references that only Van Morrison could do. It is a pleasure. "Ancient Of Days" is one of the effortless, almost funky, pieces of soulful mid paced gentle rock, and "Evening Meditation" is a peaceful, reflective saxophone and vocal improvisation-driven instrumental. If you are lulled into a sleepy torpor by the previous track's blissful mood, be prepared to ascend to Heaven. Morrison will take you there on "The Master's Eyes", if you have even the slightest bit of soul in your body. Van's voice soars above the gospelly backing vocals and the grand build up of the instrumentation. The guitar part in the middle is just so damn moving and you know that Van is going to come growling back in soon, and he does, emoting nostalgically about "buttercup summers". If you are talking about "the master" - you are listening to him. Sublime.

"What Would I Do" is a slow, jazzy and soulful Ray Charles cover, and here, in Morrison's hands, it airs a spirituality the suits the nature of his recordings at this period in time. If you didn't know, you would think it was a Morrison composition. It suits him perfectly, the whole "see me through" theme. The title track is another holy experience to listen to. You don't need church on a Sunday morning (as it is now as I write this), just listen to this for your salvation. Here, Van's quest, his search for, and belief in a higher power becomes linked, at the end, with a marvellous evocative recitation of various childhood memories of Northern Ireland. All over a sumptuous saxophone and female backing vocal canvas. It also includes this wonderful line - "you may call my love Sophia but I call my love philosophy...". Not long after that line, Van is musing about "pasty suppers down at Davy's chipper...". Only Van Morrison could come up with this. Suitably, a Celtic-influenced, jaunty instrumental is next, "Boffyflow And Spike", with some lively fiddle. There is a more vibrant feel to this album overall than the very peaceful tones of "Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart".

"If You Only Knew" is a jazzy and effervescent cover of a Mose Allison song and points to a lot of the material that Morrison would record over the subsequent thirty years and more. This was the first of these type of songs. After 2000, pretty much every Morrison album would contain a song or two in this style. "Let The Slave" is a quietly sung, almost spoken delivery of a William Blake poem over a dignified, steady backing. Morrison narrates the poem at the end, almost like an irascible parson delivering a sermon with a splitting headache. Then a lovely bit of saxophone comes in and a Heavenly choir fades the album out. This really is an underrated Morrison classic of an album.

Included in the bonus material is "Crazy Jane On God", which was based on a W.B. Yeats poem, but was withdrawn from the original album at the request of the Yeats estate. It is given an almost Celtic Soul meets R'n'B delivery with some slightly over-the-top female vocals. It is pleasant enough, however. Quite slowly infectious, in fact.

B

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