When I reviewed John Blangero’s debut album as Sun King Rising, I said it would undoubtedly raise his profile within the music scene, which is exactly what happened. Now here he is back with the follow-up, and yet again we are taken on a journey with a pianist and songwriter who is embedded in the classic rock scene of the later 60s, except here he has also brought in plenty of soul to take it to the next level. I previously likened him to Joe Cocker and Bob Seger, yet here he has also brought in additional elements of artists such as The Band while also utilizing brass and backing vocals which makes one realize he is also influenced by classic Motown.
His vocals are broad, and exactly what one would expect from just looking at the cover photo. This is not some youngster singing about lost love or the girl next door, but someone who has lived and is using those life experiences to take us on a ride with him. At the heart of every song is his delicate flowing piano combined with his rough and ready vocals which are packed with emotion, yet the arrangements are often very different with “Lanterns on the Levee” somehow combining all the elements we find throughout the rest of the album. This feels the most American of them all, with musical nods throughout and even some army-style drum rolls, while a very special mention must be made of Stevee Wellons and Ace Acker for the background vocal arrangements as they are a major element of what is a superb piece of work.
He throws us into the dirt in New Orleans with “Buried In The Blues Again” where he evokes Dr. John, The Night Tripper, with plenty of menace and passion. This is never a clean album, in that there is always something going on which takes us to the dark side, which is always a more interesting place to be, and it never sounds as if it has come from the present day but rather this is a lost album from some 50 years ago when musicians were valued and production was about capturing their essence as opposed to being everything there is. We get the gospel, we get blues, we get soul, and so very much more. “Jubal Takes A Wife” is classic 70’s rock, uptempo and full of life, imbibed with passion and soulfulness which is hard to describe.
‘Signs & Wonders’ is a release that fans of the debut Sun King Rising will flock to, while it will also gain John plenty of followers coming across his music for the very first time. There is greatness within, and anyone who enjoys Americana-style rock cannot afford to miss out on what is a true classic of the genre. Accessible from the very first note, it repays repeated plays as there is just so much breadth and depth within. Music rarely gets better than this.
10/10 By Kev Rowland