Provogue [Release date 02.09.13]
It’s a measure of Jonny Lang’s maturity that he’s slowly but surely repositioned himself in the music scene as a dance friendly, contemporary white boy soul singer at the ripe old age of 32. I say slowly, because ‘Fight For My Soul’ is his first album for 7 years, and rather than being a lurch in a different direction, he refines the nascent style to be found on his last album ‘Turn Around’.
‘Fight For My Soul is a far more confident and exuberant affair that sounds like he’s having fun with his most consistent material for years. Let’s face it, he’s probably done a lot of growing up in the last 7 years and you could argue that this album reflects that change.
Jonny has already experienced the kind of career defining highs and lows of someone many years his senior. He cut a mega selling album at the age of 15, toured with the Stones, Aerosmith and more recently with Buddy Guy and appeared in the star studded Blues Brothers film. And while he succumbed to the usual rock & roll excesses, he never stopped working. As a result Jonny hasn’t so much faded away as simply taken stock and regrouped with his family, his tour band and producer Tommy Sims, to try and bridge the gap between contemporary r&b, soul and commercial success on his own terms.
And while this album might veer uncomfortably towards the middle ground for his blues-rock fans, he’s advancing his maturity as a songwriter. He is unafraid to tackle autobiographical songs shaped by strong melodies and anchored by a soulful production. The material is also given that little bit extra by his road tested band as Jonny revels in the soulful, gospel elements to push himself to another level when required by slipping into falsetto.
It’s that delicate balance between the organic ‘live in the studio’ feel and radio friendly polish that makes this an essential Jonny Lang album. In short, ‘Fight For My Soul’ has got a soulful undertow to match the impressive material, as he reels in his Stevie Wonder, Prince and Michael Jackson influences, as if in a flashback to his youth.
Look no further than the opening lead single ‘Blew (The House)’ which fuses a stomping blues-rock intro with a dance friendly hook. He tackles the song with real gusto and some accompanying whoops which suggest he’s breaking free from his past, while the soulful ‘Breakin’ In’ demonstrates his vocal versatility.
Barely a third of the way into the set, he all but fulfils his new found musical ambition with the enquiring ‘What You’re Looking for’. It’s arguably the best song on the album and draws on all his innate talents of soulful phrasing, heartfelt lyrics and a radio friendly hook within an accessible arrangement, to deliver a non-judgemental optimistic take on his own faith: If you’re looking for Love, hope or faith? Your gonna find what your looking for?’
His honest heartfelt sentiment draws the listener into a personal and spiritual journey that lies at the core of the album.
On ‘All Of A Sudden’ he casts aside any ambivalence with a reflective line sung in a moving falsetto: ‘My home is on the highway and my family on the stage’. He’s equally unafraid to bear his metaphorical feelings on the self evidently titled ‘The Truth’ and he explores a more expansive production on the string laden ‘We Are The Same’.
The title track ‘Fight For My Soul’ may or may not be an intentional pun on his new musical direction, but it’s a track that is the perfect barometer of a rejuvenated artist.
Longer term blues-rock fans might be surprised by the Stevie Wonder hook of ‘We Are The Same’, or the undoubted Prince influenced ‘Not Right’ and they may not immediately warm to the Motown feel of ‘The River’, but they are not hearing something radically new in Jonny’s music. He was always as much a white boy soul singer as a blues rocker. And while Glenn Hughes has been here before with his own funky Stevie Wonder stylings, Jonny soulful feel is far more enveloping and broad based.
It might take some getting used to, but Jonny Lang has come out of his career hiatus as a more mature, contemporary artist with an album that has the potential to bring him real success from an unexpected musical source. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Interview (June 2013)
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