Looking for omens to follow a tuneful star, Port Isabel professor clears quagmires of the mind for rivers of fantasy to run free.
The rise of John Blangero as a musician was little short of sensational not only because of the quality that his 2020 debut "Delta Tales" exuded in spades but also because the Texan artist seemed to have appeared out of nowhere to spread his gospel around the world via ubiquitous advertising which, of course, more than delivered on its promise. Still, a world-renowned human geneticist should know a thing or two about one’s soul, so there’s nothing surprising in his crossing over from science to culture; what’s amazing, though, is his sophomore effort’s effortless shift from reality to “southern noir stories” as Blangero describes this somewhat mystical run of songs. With the swamps and waters of John’s imagination running deep, “Signs & Wonders” is a satisfyingly psyche-cleansing experience.
The listener may not be able to fathom the platter’s depth by the ebullient, brass-washed opener “Bitter Waters Sweetened” where the professor’s mellifluous vocals flow across his equally honeyed ivories following the groove Belangero’s ensemble lay alluringly thick, but by the time the balladry of “Alabama Nocturne” sees John edge towards the album’s final frontier, his piano and organ will have unfolded a multilayered panorama with many a treasure at the bottom to shed a light on the record’s surface. Yet if the similarly neon-lit “No. 6 Magnolia Avenue” casts infectious shadows at the artist’s street-smart strut, full of panache but devoid of hubris despite George Elliott’s bulging bass lines, “Lanterns On The Levee” offers a spiritual, orchestral uplift showing the entire spectrum of the singer’s rich voice before the sax-caressed “Buried In The Blues Again” refutes the drama of its own title in favor of dulcet, seductive jive.
And while the slightly histrionic “Jubal Takes A Wife” and “She Was A Blonde” pretend to take a stroll between “Signs” and “Wonders” and further on, into vaudeville territory, they sound so tasty as to cater to the most testy denier of the Mississippi’s miracles, of the beauty those rolling guitar licks and keyboards figures never fail to form, it’s “One More Story To Tell” and “Low Wine And Cruel Ruin” that make the inebriating tumbleweed connection to the old-timey grace inherent to Belangero’s melodies and delivery. And it’s the arresting, finely filigreed tune and raging arrangement of “Anchorless” that conspire to not let the listener leave the cage of John’s creative space they wouldn’t want to abandon anyway: it’s too cathartic and comfortable to venture beyond – unless he’s up to leading the flock there.