95. Turn Around – Jonny Lang
TURN AROUND (2006)
If Jonny Lang was only able to sing like he does his music would find its way onto this list. If Jonny Lang could only play guitar the way he does his music would find a way onto this list. If Jonny Lang could only write music like he does his music would find a way onto this list. That fact that he does all three like he does puts this particular release into the Top 100.
Noted and acclaimed blues guitarist extraordinaire Jonny Lang made a forthright decision to record an album expressing the purpose in his life. Everyone knew he could sing, play and write, but many did not know his love for God and his firmly held faith. This album was a purposeful expression of that faith. Lang expressed it this way:
“I’ve been so incredibly blessed,” says Jonny. “My wife and I just had our fifth anniversary. I get to do what I love for a living. But it wasn’t so long ago that I was spiraling downward in a lot of ways, until God touched my life and set me on the right track. I feel a huge debt to give glory back to Him for everything He has done for me.”
Special guests on the album include Buddy Miller, Kenny Meeks, Michael McDonald and even Steven Curtis Chapman. This and a host of the finest musicians on the planet combine to create a masterful Gospel/Blues album that belongs in any and all music fans’ collection. The album would also walk away with the Grammy for Best Gospel (Rock or Rap) Album.
After a short Church organ intro Lang strums the opening riff to the groovy “Bump in the Road.” For the uninitiated Lang’s voice simply does fit his handsome, rugged, lanky North Dakota cowboy looks. Soulful, screechy, gargling with razor blades and wholly blues blessed. There is also a Terrence Trent d’Arby R&B blend to the old black blues man sound. At times he reminds me of Judson Spence.
“Bump in the Road” expresses the need to stay faithful despite life’s circumstances and how difficult times are only small bumps in the long life of an individual.
“One Person at a Time” has a more traditional blues feel and it is here that Lang begins to shows why he is one of the most respected guitarists in the world. The song takes a little shot at radio stations and their reluctance to play music with a Christian theme. But despite the obstacles Lang’s faith in God’s ability to change the world “one person at a time” remains strong.
The riff on “The Other side of the fence” is just killer. What a stinking groove. The song’s message of “staying in your own yard” and the need to remain faithful despite life’s temptation is couched in a sexy, funky groove. Lang’s vocals sparkle here.
The title track sounds initially a lot like Kerry Livgren’s “Whiskey Seed,” with the humming Gospel choir. then Lang’s voice takes over the song takes a much more soulful approach. This is one of the heavier songs and contains a more testimonial feel with a real call of repentance.
“My Love Remains” is the polar opposite of the previous. A simply, light acoustic ballad with breezy, soulful vocals. very sweet sounding both musically and vocally, Lang takes a falsetto approach to a very simply arrangement of a beautiful song.
The soulful groove returns with “Thankful,” and the Black Gospel sounding backing vocals are such a perfect fit. Add the always stirring vocal support of Michael McDonald and the song jumps to a whole new level. When McDonald tackles a soulful, blues song there are few who can compete with it. Lang takes a backseat on the second verse and the song works better for it.
“Only a Man” is the most autobiographical song in the collection. Here Lang expresses a time when God confronted him directly about his life and decisions. Lang recounts his running from God and his turning to alcohol, drugs and a selfish lifestyle. Joined by his wife on vocals, this very simple southern, country arranged acoustic ballad is beautiful and causes the listener to pause for a moment and reflect.
“Don’t Stop” is possibly the rockiest song on the album. Lang’s vocals are much more raspy rock than bluesy soul. They work within the framework of the song and the message.The fun and funk “Anything is Possible” is reminiscent of classic Rufus joint, “Tell Me Something Good.” The funky groove tells the story of living out your dreams even when encouraged to do otherwise. Even Lang’s parents told him to put down his guitar!
“Last Goodbye” is the least like anything else on the album with its piano and snare drum supporting a slow and lilting ballad. The music sounds like something from a smokey bar with Bogey and Bacall. Lang’s falsetto returns and just slinks its way through the melody with an emotional touch sorely lacking in much CCM.
The foray into the simple and quiet does not last long as the groove returns with my personal favorite, “On My Feet Again.” This should have been a radio single in the Christian market. Great vocals, great groove and wonderful and uplifting message. But alas the Gospel backing vocals, whipping guitar licks and raspy vocals would be the death knell. A special note here about just how great the brass section arrangements on this album are and this song is a great example. Never overpowering, but always supporting and spot on.
The only complaint I can even make is that I would have switched the order of the two final songs. “That Great Day” is beautiful and slow ballad about seeing God face to face on that great day. It’s simple acoustic closing would have been perfect.
But I can’t complain to much as the Gospel driven “It’s Not Over” is also a great closer, but with a more uplifting and upbeat response. Lang’s Gospel upbringing is evident more here than anywhere else on the album. The vocal vamps that close the album are terrific and passionate.
Like most albums that make the Top 100 there are very few things to complain about here. Though I have listed several AYSO, there are few that would match this release. It is a must own!