Fight For My Soul
Mascot / Provogue www.jonnylang.com
Well if you’re going to make your first studio album in seven years, it’s going to help to feature your road band isn’t it ? and that’s exactly what Jonny Lang has gone for with this release. It’s been a while since we had new recordings from this onetime junior-guitar-hotshot, so this new set is very welcome. Lang has the axe licks, the songwriting ideas, the growing personal nature of his subject matter and – for this listener – most of all the tuneful rasping voice to make record after listenable record.
The grim-faced Blues Police Support Officers lurking around our scene tend to wince at the gospel tinge his songs sometimes have, but for me (the least religious person on the planet) it’s just a facet of Lang’s that he chooses to embrace here and there. And what Stevie Wonder album doesn’t have touches of gospel along with soul, blues, rock, pop whatever ? Songs like ‘Higher Ground’ are all these things.
The cognoscenti among you will have registered Jonny singing up a storm on Eric Johnson’s last set on the track ‘Austin’ which is as driving a rockblues number as you’re going to hear this year ( and by the way, I hope you all have the latest majestic album by The Union ?) and really in some ways that performance is a sonic trailer for what happens on this release.
Opener ‘Blew Up’ has the stamp of producer Tommy Sims and he plays resonator in the mix on this. Lang credits Sims with realising his song ideas into usable material. The sound here jumps out at you, like a Sonny Landreth recording. 35 seconds into the cut and there’s that fired voice riding on the stomping beat. Maybe if Delaney & Bonnie were still recording it would sound like this. The vocals are as distinctive as say Stevie Winwood or Buddy Guy’s. The liquid guitar snakes out of the brew for solo, creeping up the neck to the squeal notes. What the rhythm section are doing is so far from the plodding meat&potatoes beat we are so used to hearing from other acts. My immediate reaction is that not everyone is going to like this sound, but for those of us that do, what a treat. Next up ‘Breakin’ In’ has a storytelling touch, delivered in almost a blues tango with great dynamics. Definitely the soul/funk side of the blues with guitar runs to suit.
‘We Are The Same ‘ plays with dirt and delay and the vocal panned back in reverb initially before an emphatic choppy rhythm starts and eerie keys hover above the grease. Here, the band sounds a tad like Rufus, but with guitar emphasis, or Norm Whitfield-era Temptations. But no trumpet through an echoplex, dammit ! The guitar coda has a spirited fuzzy abandon, shot through with wah as the chorale testifies.
Now ‘What You’re Looking For’ has a world music touch in the production, latin-but-not-quite. Lang sounds somewhat angry but channelling everything into the song. I bet this song takes off in the live set, a touch too much compression on the solo guitar for me here.
Let’s run through the band – bass in the hands of James Anton, rhythm guitar Akil Thompson, skinsman Barry Alexander, keys Dwan Hill, vocalist Missi Hale. All proper band musicians but not anonymous and interchangeable a la Simply Red. Given that Jonny regards music as one of the optimum means of human communication and allowing for the fact that he now has a family is bound to affect his lyrical produce.
‘Not Right’ is a tender moment to start but a heavier beat treads it along, global social concern is the theme here ; to his credit Lang can sound impassioned without preaching. A Jeff Beck-bitchin’ tone is heard to good effect on ‘The Truth’ but for this listener this number veers towards Springsteen in style too often. ‘River’ is blues Motown in tempo and maybe has the best vocal on the record ? Curiously, this sounds the sort of thing that Italian electric roots genius Zucchero comes up with, especially with the lineup he recently brought to the Royal Albert Hall. Love the keys arrangement on this cut. Moodiest piece here is the title track, a sad story of a lost lass and beautifully handled. Maybe Curtis Mayfield influenced ? I’ll ask Jonny when we meet up.
Closer ‘I’ll Always Be’ has a haunting piano intro and breathy vocal and sounds like a Billy Joel song looking for a musical. Except the guitar at the end has a tortured ecstasy…..
In summary, a very soulful set with what will clearly be great guitar jump-offs when performed live, but definitely in need of a couple of meatier/rockier tracks for balance. When all’s said and done though, I don’t want to hear this guy do Robert Johnson covers or the Albert King songbook. Others might !! – I want to hear him do his own anguished thing with musicians he trusts and that’s all here…..
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