D'Arby, as we'll call him, has worn his heart on his sleeve before, but the sharp insights of his early work only cut as deep as his liquid but somehow guarded singing would take us. Wild Card's ballads are richer in emotion, with D'Arby's voice -- which can still capture grit and sugar in the same note -- sounding, finally, unaware of the studio. The album's single, "What Shall I Do," is a simple, aching cascade of a song that channels the sweet, '70s soul of the Chi-Lites and the Delfonics over a well-made bed of lush bass and guitar jangle. This track isn't the only one on the record that could rescue soul music from histrionics and neo-classic poses. The opener, "Divina," built on an improbably gorgeous combination of banjo and brass section, and the jazzy, clarinet-caressed "Shalom" project their dual mystical/romantic themes from a place that sounds just as close to the center of D'Arby's newly baptized gut.
Like pre-Maitreya records, Wild Card is a little spotty -- particularly the funkier tunes, like the "Sign Your Name"-reminiscent "Drivin' Me Crazy." But even at 19 tracks, the record's ratio of bliss to blah surpasses all but D'Arby's finest work. Anointed by your CD player's holy program-button, Wild Card is exactly as religious an experience as soul music should be.