- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2006 1 Sep
- Bump in the Road
- One Person at a Time
- The Other Side of the Fence
- Turn Around
- My Love Remains
- Only a Man
- Don't Stop (For Anything)
- Anything's Possible (Don't Let 'em)
- Last Goodbye
- On My Feet Again
- That Great Day
- It's Not Over
Two things are indisputable about Jonny Lang—the dude can play and he loves the Lord. The first fact we've known since 1997, when the insanely gifted blues guitarist burst onto the scene with
Disagreement arises concerning what Lang should be playing and singing about. Two years ago,
Since he seems to draw praise and criticism no matter which direction he takes, I for one applaud Lang's decision to try and broaden his artistic horizons beyond the familiar confines of blues-rock. Surprisingly, it was A&M president and producer Ron Fair who suggested to Lang a couple years ago that he should make a gospel record. The guitarist readily agreed, teaming up with Grammy-winning producer Shannon Sanders (India.Arie) and Drew Ramsey to record
It's probably not the album that hardcore blues purists are hoping for. Lang's stellar guitar playing and soul-soaked vocals are intact, but the production is intentionally cleaner and more produced, not as gritty and hard-hitting.
The title track is closest to what Lang's longtime fans might be expecting, building on a bluesy hook that sounds like a prison chain gang, while Lang uses his own testimony and that of a friend serving a lifelong prison sentence as examples of making smart life changes. "Don't Stop for Anything," a similar redemption testimonial from a prodigal mindset, offers a killer modern blues groove resembling Lenny Kravitz's cover of "American Woman." And "The Other Side of the Fence" lays down some awesome funk to accompany a message about coveting our neighbor's blessings. There's also some soulful rock to be found in "Bump in the Road," about weathering the tough times, while "On My Feet Again" provides a Memphis pop backdrop to the power of prayer.
But the rest of
Another curveball is "My Love Remains," an acoustic pop ballad co-written with Steven Curtis Chapman, as Lang delivers a soft falsetto that recalls Stevie Wonder or Babyface. The similarly gentle and poignant "Only a Man," featuring Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek) on harmony and fiddle, treads into AC pop territory, while "On That Great Day" enlists the assistance of Buddy Miller and Sam Bush for a Southern gospel styled ballad.
I can see some fans getting into a huff because this is such a departure from blues. I happen to like the eclecticism, and Lang manages to keep the album coherent by weaving his bluesy sensibilities through most of the songs. If Clapton can get away with "Change the World" and "Tears in Heaven" alongside "After Midnight" and "I Shot the Sheriff," why not Lang?
The real question is whether the songs are a match to Lang's skills and varied styles. These are easily some of his most intensely personal songs to date, although the gospel testimonials seem to repeat themselves over the course of thirteen songs. Some of it is admittedly a little hackneyed and overly sentimental, but then again a lot of blues lyrics can also be clichéd yet overlooked.
Which keeps bringing us back to the undeniable talent of Jonny Lang, with his scorching guitar and impressive pipes that sound nothing like a white 25-year-old from Fargo, North Dakota. Assuming you're open to him expressing his beliefs through a variety of blues-inflected styles, it's all too easy to get caught up in the passion and proficiency with which Lang delivers his latest effort.