Jonny Lang – Signs (2017)

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While only in his mid-teens, Jonny Lang rapidly built up a sizeable audience with a powerful, soulful voice and guitar mastery well beyond his years; Lie To Me and Wander This World fired up blues-rock lovers in the late 90s with its blistering licks and fervent singing, framed by David Z’s production and some tight, hired hand songwriting mixed with well-chosen covers. But as this prodigal talent went from being a boy to a man, his personal transition triggered a musical transition and he went through something of a Christian rocker phase, leaving some of the initial enthusiasm behind as well.

Now thirty-six, Lang has in a way come full circle with Signs. Out on September 8, 2017 from Concord Records, this is a record that should delight his original fans with the kind of music he made his mark with: primal roots rock, RnB and funk that’s all tied together by the unifying force of the blues. This isn’t the purist stuff, but Lang never pretended to be a purist. His original forté had been to expand the blues into a new group of listeners, and now he’s done it again.

And then some. Lang has emerged from his ‘wandering in the wilderness’ as a veteran songwriter and a somewhat more nuanced singer. The guy can still play a little guitar, too, but is savvy enough to put his chops in the service of the song and his vocal, not shredding for shredding’s sake.

“Make It Move” is gripping in its steeled commitment evident in his red-raw blues shouting with little else aside from a foot stomp and a simply-strummed guitar. “Wisdom” is also lightly accompanied, and the stripped arrangement only adds to the power.

That falsetto he’s always wielded is better than ever on the gritty rocker “Snakes” and “Signs,” an unabashedly electrified balls-to-the-wall blues but for the twenty-first century. There, he lays down crying Albert King licks and follows it along with a hurting wail.

“What You’re Made Of” hits the mark as a funky concoction that brings together perfect doses of soul, rock, gospel and blues. “Stronger Together” is smoother RnB — but not too smooth — that has feel-good lyrics and melody catchy enough to earn a good amount of radio play in a fair world.

“Bitter End” finds the point where blues rock crosses into hard rock, with an earnest passion that can’t be taught. “Bring Me Back Home” is an early 70s soul ballad in the tradition of “Rainy Night In Georgia” and “Drift Away” and where someone else might have over-emoted the lyrics, he finds the right cadence here.

“Singing Songs” has an anthemic feeling due to the gospel background vocals and string accompaniment as it swells up from Lang’s acoustic guitar, perhaps the only place where the production — that up to this point has been generally clean and no-frill — is brought fully to bear.

Older, wiser and brimming with confidence, Jonny Lang makes his strongest case yet for his early fans who fell in love with that high school phenom to come running back to him. In 2017, Signs fulfills the promise of 1997.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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