Sun King Rising (John Blangero) Releases New Album

John Blangero’s Sun King Rising project will make a big splash with its latest release Delta Tales. The full-on creative punch of the album’s ten songs will propel Blangero’s renown into a larger orbit than ever before and, despite a plethora of influences informing his writing and presentation, few contemporary releases impress with such a clear identity. These are songs capable of commanding your attention. It is, likewise, unique that Sun King Rising has the sort of material that connects with listeners on both a mental and physical level. This combination redefines the limits of what these traditional songs can accomplish.

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Take the first cut “The Snake” for example. This far-flung cover of a seldom remembered sixties R&B song takes on a whole new life thanks to the beaming bravado of Blangero’s lead vocal. He’s supported by backing vocalists fixated on complementing his voice with no designs on personal glory. He reinvigorates the phrasing and imbues its lyrics with a sense of stakes absent from the original. His decision to stress funkier parts of the performance doesn’t pull the track into being some sort genre hybrid, but peppers the arrangement without ever taking the song off-course.

Horns scatter emphatic musical exclamation points throughout “Free Will in China Blue”, one of the album’s more evocative song titles, and it carries more melodic impact than most. Blangero’s piano is the album’s main vehicle for conveying melody; several songs, in his hands, are transformed from likely piano and vocal duets into inspired and full-fleshed out arrangements. The best kind of singing leaves its mark on this track – the kind where a singer is giving us the words as if their lives depend on convincing us.

There’s a much more rugged mood emanating from “Take It Down” than earlier album tracks. Blangero is a sort of stylistic chameleon as he tries on several “hats” over the course of the album and this can be heard as his foray into the blues. It is far from slavish pastiche, but the guitar work has an innate understanding of the genre’s demands and plays with piercing emotive power. “Evangeline in the Morning” revisits some of the country music strands heard earlier in the release and elsewhere in the songs recorded for Delta Tales. The playing conjures strong atmospherics with little more than brushstrokes and the chorus is especially wrenching. John Blangero writes some of the best “payoff” lines in modern music, no holds barred.

“Let There Be Light” finishes things off with a tight little bow. It’s a powerful recap of what has come before but likewise expands on the essential hopefulness pervading these songs. The creative act, even if covering dire topics, is a redemptive one at its core and, for many, the surging vitality of this song and the overall release is rebuke to the last year and a half plus. Delta Tales covers a small panorama of human experience as well as any musical work in recent years and let’s hope we soon hear more from this talented artist. 

Michael Rand

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