(5 / 5)
Now you are talking my language…I have been a huge fan of Mr Lang since I almost drove my car off of a sheer drop in thick fog on the Isle of Skye back in 1997, after this earth-shattering voice and guitar playing blasted out of the car radio and distracted me!
I had to pull over and jot down who it was and what the record was. When back at home a week or two later, I tracked down that album and it blew my mind. “Lie To Me” by Jonny Lang, who was then just 15-years-old. That debut solo album on A&M which went Platinum, was astounding.
While he was supporting the Rolling Stones on a World tour, they had to pull a date or two when Mick lost his voice. Jonny took advantage of the nights off and organised a showcase gig at Dingwalls in London’s Camden. I was there on the guest list. Cliff Richard was stood next to me! Jonny was sensational. One could not fathom how that voice could possibly come from one so young.
Wind forward to 2013, and I am sat with Jonny in a trendy hotel doing an interview and photo shoot. Lovely guy and he was pleased when I was able to tell him where that showcase gig was, as he had forgotten and told me he had often tried to remember the name of the venue.
I think I have everything he has recorded, and there was a slight dip in his output for me. But he is very much back with a vengeance with this release, his first studio album for four years. In simple terms; “Signs” is a bloody brilliant album. His voice has never ever sounded better. His guitar playing is sublime as always. Not as much of it here as some guitar fans will desire, but what there is in brush strokes and some gob-smacking solos, really is spot on.
But the big news is……….the material is King. These 11 cuts are the perfect vehicle for his soulful and passionate vocals. This is a complete piece of work and needs to be heard in its entirety as albums used to be, before you could cherry pick the odd track digitally.
Things open as they mean to go on, with “Make It Move”. That gravel and gasoline vocal growl grabs you by the throat from the off. Great attack on the acoustic guitar, with little teasers on the electric axe. Chain gang backing vocals add to the vibe. “Snakes” offers grunged-up guitar, and some faultless and spine tingling falsetto, putting me in mind of the sensational Norwegian artist Bernhoft. Jonny’s phrasing is fabulous. “Last Man Standing” has an urgency in the vocal and the sparse electric guitar delivery, on a rockin’ mid-tempo belter. Title track, “Signs”, on a slow, moody and menacing tip. Another sizzling vocal; such conviction and intensity. Mr Lang has always sung like his life depended on it. No change here. This cut has a 70s British rock vibe to it.
“What You’re Made Of” is Jonny at his usual trick of nailing a groove. Here he nods to Bill Withers and Ritchie Havens, perhaps. A really cool track, almost on a reggae tip, Prince flavours too with the falsetto burst. Nice hook. On “Bitter End”, Jonny asks: “Why start another war, kill another man?” Quite. The cut builds in intensity, the chorus is epic. Marvellous piece of work. Shivers down the spine time. “Stronger Together”, one of those songs you start singing along to on first listen, like it is very familiar. An ear worm hook, lots of “Na, na, na, na’s”. A warm sentiment in the lyric. I recall a former Government here in the UK using this phrase, with “We are all in it together” when cutting budgets and services. With a mass response of “Bullshit”…………
Gorgeous ballad, “Bring Me Back Home”, a sweet and sincere love song about how it is not the bricks and mortar or the fixtures and fittings that brings him back home. “It’s just you babe that brings me back home”. Best vocal on the album, by the way. This man has s-s-s-s-soul, with a capital S. Peter Green and Duane Allman vibes on the stunning and oh-so-perfect guitar break. I can just see the iPhone lights twinkling in the dark across the festivals and venues, when Jonny adds this one to the set. There’s a couple more tracks before the closer “Singing Songs”; a beautifully crafted cut, strings adding value. It builds and builds into somewhat of a mini epic, with lots of grace and style. Jonny’s vocal adds yet another level of passion and intensity.
He is still only 36-years-old and at the top of his game. The likes of BB King, The Stones and Buddy Guy hailed him as a great guitarist, a great singer and a great songwriter. His talents have evolved, developed and got better – If that were possible, when you consider the outrageous and audacious quality of what he was doing as a teenager.
“Signs” is funky, it is bluesy, it rocks like a real mutha. Soaked in soul and above all else; it has super duper class. There really is no one quite like Jonny Lang, and as a triple threat of singer, guitarist and songwriter, the latter skill is writ large across this recording; one of the very best albums of the year thus far in any genre. Trust me.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’