STEVIE WONDER"Natural Wonder” Motown* * *Stevie Wonder...


“Natural Wonder”


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Stevie Wonder doesn’t put out many albums these days, and he doesn’t do concerts very often, so a live album is a good way to graze both bases at once.

For someone who’s been unfocused and erratic in recent years, Wonder really perks up here, delivering more than the required run-through of his classics. With the Tokyo Philharmonic taking parts originally played on synthesizer, such standards as “Higher Ground” get a new light, if not a major redefinition.

Recorded in Osaka and Tel Aviv (heck, why not?), “Natural Wonder” also includes a couple of hits from the days when there was a Little in front of the Stevie Wonder, and three new songs: the symphonic-soul opener “Dancing to the Rhythm,” the blues shuffle “Stevie Ray Blues,” and “Ms. and Mr. Little Ones,” an entry in the Wonder tradition of hopeful social laments.

The performances don’t yield any bolts of revelation, but are uniformly genuine and spirited, without a trace of complacency. A classy retrospective--signed, sealed, delivered.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (e x cellent).