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Jonny Lang - Signs (Album Review)

Friday, 15 September 2017 Written by Simon Ramsay

Whether you’re Walter White post cancer diagnosis, Michael Douglas’s D-Fens stuck in traffic or the most mild-mannered person on the planet, everyone has a breaking point. In the case of Jonny Lang, who’s been moulding his beloved blues into fresh new shapes for two decades, this follow up to 2013’s genre-busting ‘Fight For My Soul’ finds him blowing a proverbial gasket. It’s a thrillingly primal album bleeding with anger, defiance and exasperation.

It’s very easy to feel the blues in 2017, but if ‘Signs’ is anything to go by it would seem that, when traumatic experiences accumulate over a period time, what’s always been a traditionally downbeat art form can morph into something with an explosiveness befitting this increasingly pressurised existence.  

There’s an aggressiveness here that suggests betrayal, rage and lingering frustrations about Lang’s early experiences after breaking onto the scene at the age of 15 with 1997’s ‘Lie To Me’.

The pulsating venom of Snakes lashes out at exploitative, predatory forces and Last Man Standing’s blast of combative resilience is one of the heaviest rockers he’s ever done. Well, it is until Bitter End comes along, castigating historically ignorant warmongers.

‘Signs’ will delight fans who felt ‘Fight For My Soul’ drifted too far from the guitarist’s roots, with its elemental aesthetic recalling Son House and Robert Johnson, albeit with a modern flavour courtesy of the storytelling and Lang’s soulful rasp. Make It Move’s bare-boned stomp sees fuzzy guitar and coruscating vocals segueing into a chanted chorus, while Wisdom finds raw and edgy six-string work standing front and centre.

Not that this record is bereft of quieter moments. The tender Bring Me Back Home offers emotionally sweet vocal and guitar textures as Lang, longing to return to his family, bemoans the pitfalls of the music business and touring. Then there’s Singing Songs, a melancholy musical prayer that vows to keep alive what our ancestors bequeathed us. An exceptional composition unlike anything he’s done before, its flamenco vibe and sorrowful strings underscore choirboy vocals to create the kind of foreboding soundscape that recalls Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’.

‘Signs’ does stumble, however, when the music doesn’t fit the overarching thematic scheme. We’re Stronger Together and What You’re Made Of are soulful and funky pop songs that would have been more appropriate on his last record. Although intended to counterbalance the darker moments with much needed positivity, preaching unity and personal fortitude over a breezier backdrop feels lightweight, with their messages dwarfed by the domineering intensity that surrounds them. Both Last Man Standing and Into The Light rouse the soul with a more tonally appropriate and uplifting forcefulness.

Despite of the occasional dip, ‘Signs’ boasts some of the finest songwriting of Lang’s career and exemplifies what a brave and bold artistic force he is. Never content to play it safe or be swayed by others’ expectations, he follows his muse and expresses himself with a fearlessness that renders this album thought-provoking and inspiring, regardless of the fires he’s walked through.

Jonny Lang Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat November 04 2017 - LONDON O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire

Click here to compare & buy Jonny Lang Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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