Robert Cray adds a bit more soul to the mix on this album, which features the Memphis Horns most prominently. Most of the songs are Cray doing what Cray does best–slow, soulful, done-me-wrong (or, alternatively, I-done-wrong) songs chock full of great guitar. No complaints there, and when he adds a bit of vocal growl here and there, as on the album opener "The Forecast (Calls for Pain)" (also featuring some excellent bass from Richard Cousins), and the slow shuffle "Holdin' Court," it keeps things interesting. This album indicates a slight shift in Cray's direction; although he's always included a touch of soul in his blues, here it's more pronounced than before, a tendency he continued in subsequent recordings.
West Coast vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Robert Lucas forged a path for himself in the blues world after the release of his much-hailed 1990 self-produced debut cassette, Across the River. Based in Long Beach, CA, as a solo artist Lucas recorded for the Audioquest label out of San Clemente. He was also a member of the legendary boogie blues band Canned Heat, singing and playing bottleneck guitar and harmonica with the group off and on starting in 1994. Lucas paid homage to traditional blues but also carefully crafted his own singing and slide guitar style. These talents are on ample display on his Audioquest albums, including Luke and the Locomotives, Usin' Man Blues, Built for Comfort, Layaway, and Completely Blue, all released during the '90s, as well as latter-day Canned Heat albums on the Ruf and Fuel 2000 labels.
…Marianne has spent her life researching this work. She displays that rare intelligence that allows all "misfortunes" to be converted to her benefit. There is a detachment that allows one to be intimately involved with, but not consumed by this type of work. This is her best work in quite some time. She deserves all the accolades that come her way as a serious singer who can pull off the piece. A wonderful disc from one whose live presence we must count as miraculous considering what she has lived through.
Blancmange is a perfect band for a compilation: it was only around for three albums, so there's not a lot of material to pick and choose from (meaning that many fan favorites will fall by the wayside), and all three albums are spotty enough that buying Second Helpings: The Best of Blancmange is a quick and neat way to get pretty much all of the high points. (That said, it would have been nice if the atmospheric instrumental "Sad Day" from 1982's Happy Families had made the cut.) The duo's three best singles, the propulsive "Blind Vision" (featuring Neil Arthur's most manic vocals), the boppy and Erasure-like "That's Love, That It Is" (the closest the duo ever got to a U.S. hit), and the hypnotic, Middle Eastern-flavored "Living on the Ceiling" (an '80s weekend radio staple even though it wasn't much of a hit at the time), are all present and accounted for, as are their other singles and a smattering of quality album tracks. A simple "all meat no filler" compilation, Second Helpings: The Best of Blancmange is just about all the Blancmange most people will ever need.
…These 17 hymns and chants, dating from the 14th through the early-18th centuries, are sung in Greek, Romanian, Latin, and Italian, and are beautiful examples of early vocal music, sung as closely as possible to the way they were historically. The beauty of these pieces is powerful and striking, and the growing complexity of the melodies as the pieces move chronologically through the centuries is fascinating to follow…