By Jack Sharkey, April 8, 2016.

Cee Lo Green’s 2015 release Heart Blanche is exactly the kind of record the Front-to-Back Album series was meant for. Chock full of great individual songs perfect in today’s era of singles before albums, when taken as a complete work this is a record that actually borders on being a great concept album.

 

Coming out of the Atlanta hip-hop scene in the late 1990s, Green has been a fixture in the pop and R&B world for twenty years, but this record transcends genre (like all good classic records do).

    

Cee Lo Green Heart Blanche

  • Released November 6, 2015
  • Length: 53:13
  • Produced by Ceelo Green, Sean Phelan, John Hill, Mark Ronson, Jon Bellion, Cook Classics, The Futuristics, Tommy Hittz, John Hill, Jack Splash, Brian Kennedy, Eg White, Sonny J. Mason, Alex Kresovish, Daniel Ledinsky  
  • Mixed by Manny Marroquin (Larrabee Sound), Sean Phelan, Jaycen Joshua 
  • Mastered by Chris Gehringer (Sterling Sound)
  • Reached #26 on the Billboard R&B Charts

 

I’m generally not a fan of albums with multiple producers, but this album is pretty cohesive in spite of all the different fingers on the buttons and sliders. Give credit to Manny Marroquin who did the majority of the mixing, but also give credit to Green himself who obviously should be considered producer of the overall project with everyone else as co-producer.

  • Front-to-Back Rating: ⑧ The one weak song on this record is actually a pretty good song, but you get the point.
  • Audiophile Love Rating: ⑧ By design, the drums sound a little weak and in the background in spots, but overall the soundstage and sonic quality are very good.
  • Engineering and Mix: ⑧ The mix really ties multiple productions together making this a totally cohesive Front-to-Back album.

 

I listened to this on CD, and the set opens with a little Philadelphia Freedom to set the mood for where Green is taking us: On a journey of love, and music, love of music, and plain old basic human frailty, and in that journey he gives us all a glimpse into our on personal journeys. Est. 1980s is a rundown of just what a kid born in the 1970s (Green was born in 1974) would’ve cut his or her teeth on, deftly avoiding cheese and turning out a great little ditty in the process. Mother May I is a low-boil R&B throwback and the production does a great job of taking us down a dark path. Throughout the album, the background vocals, layered and smothered in reverb are upfront without getting in the way and that is no more evident than on this track.    

 

Green has a wonderfully nuanced voice with equal parts sandpaper, nasal twang and choir boy, that's really well served by his amazing ability to write a hook. Naysayers may have some negative opinions on this record when compared to some of his earlier works, but the hooks are undeniable – and at the end of the day, how boring for an artist to be constantly compared to that which he has done before?

 

Between Working Class Hero and Tonight, Green channels his inner  Commodores, Flashdance and Gloria Gaynor consciousness all with a sound and style that are unmistakably Cee Lo. The lo-pad synth on Tonight is of particular use to test subwoofers or force your neighbors to call your landlord and ask him when he’s going to evict you.

 

A faint hint of Bobby McFerrin appropriately opens Robin Williams, a poignant ode to our funnymen who were taken away from us too early. Again, Cee Lo expertly straddles the line of list-making lyric without becoming cheesy or patronizing. Angela, otherwise known as the Theme from Taxi pops up in Sign Of the Times and then seamlessly walks into a low-funk arrangement that sticks in your head far too easily.

 

Green has created a record that is relatable with its universal themes and memories that transcend demographic and genre. That is no more apparent than in Cee Lo Green Sings the Blues. Great blues songs remind you of how miserable everyone’s life is, and even if your name is Peabody Frankenfeiffer you can insert your name into the lyric and feel good about how miserable you actually are. Special mention should be made that the incomparable Solomon Burke is credited with a co-write on this song.

 

The most Gnarls Barkley-esque pieces are Music to My Soul and Better Late Than Never. In his mid-forties now, Green has turned inward to look at his life and his mortality and he touches on the bargains we all make with Father Time as we put the years behind us. A special shout out to Aaron Redfield and John Wicks on a drum performance and arrangement that brilliantly ties a varied and difficult song together seamlessly. 

 

By the thirteenth track of almost any record, my ADD has kicked in and I’m ready to go out and play Corn Hole or Jarts or something. The CD kind of made it difficult to produce a record that works all the way through – on vinyl you’re forced to cull the chaff from the wheat, but in spite of Green’s vaguely clumsy military references on Purple Hearts, even at the end of the set Heart Blanche maintains its level.

 

I’m a little surprised Heart Blanche only peaked at #26, but hopefully 2016 will see this record get the attention it deserves beyond just a minor dent in the R&B charts.     

 

Heart Blanche is best listened to: 

  • • When you're a little on the contemplative side, and your date is too
  • • If you’re doing a 70s / 80s retro night (spin this record and cover it all)
  • • With a Martini, and if you can’t do a regular Martini, no one will judge you if you have a Cosmo or an Appletini
  • • When your soul needs some soul music to fix itself after another week of whatever it is you do all week that hurts your soul

 

Listened to on KEF R300s powered by a Hegel H160 Integrated.

 

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and not necessarily those of KEF or its employees.