Friday, October 13, 2006

Album Review: Jonny Lang's Damascus Road

Anyone arguing this album doesn't fit within the realm of blues is just plainly missing the point of blues. Plenty of blues songs reflect transition, and plenty of blues records have some kind of spiritual underpinning to them, although most of them seem to land squarely in the camp that leaves God "over there," as it were.

Really, if one really wants to trace a logical growth arc, both musically and spiritually for Jonny Lang, than this album is the most logical one he could have done. And anyone feigning complete and utter surprise at his overt conversion should just knock it off right now, because the predications have been there from the start. Jonny Lang’s previous offerings had plenty of spiritual currency to them, and reflected not only a desire for more against the backdrop of human doubt (“Leaving to stay,”) internally, but a relationship predicated on the concept of a sovereign God (“The Goodbye Letter.”).

That said, I do not consider this a “blues” album directly, but that delineation began with Long Time Coming, not this one.

Let me say at the outset, that I love this album, especially from the standpoint of where Jonny has taken his ever-versatile vocal gifts. Lang manages to navigate between the grit and the whisper, and shows perhaps the greatest penchant for emotion since he started playing Irish Angel during his shows.

The album is definitely an autobiographical one—one that carries Lang’s personal journey. While not passive in anyway lyrically, the album in no way indicts secular the listener into defensive mode, but rather conveys a sense of “would you perhaps try to see what I’m seeing?”

Highlights for me personally: “The other side of the fence,” a very riffy song, even if one feels slightly cheated that Jonny doesn’t peel forth as much on his telecaster. “Don’t stop for Anything,” is a vamp, a bluesy/funky glottal fry that, besides putting the hair up on my arm, made me realize the Prodigal Son could get 21st century treatment without seeming pedestrian and cloying. And yes, his guitar shows up, too.

I’ll avoid dragging this out with snippets of the whole thing, but I will predict that those inclined to believe Jonny Lang has entered some Dylan-esque “phase” by tinkering with Christianity will not have their predictions borne out. “That Great Day,” is not only blatantly traditional in its gospel construction, but carries certain revelatory clues about baptism and consecration that transcend the “I need a good phrase that rhymes here” lines that were never broached when Pete Seeger sang “Mary Don’t You Weep.”

And maybe that will be perhaps the issue that re-defines his fan base. One cannot listen to any Jonny Lang song and come to the conclusion that conviction and belief are not present at every nuance—that is perhaps part of what made him who he is at a young an age that he is.

And such is the case here. Not all of his fans will like Jonny’s neo-Apostolic emergence, but they will not need another album to arrive at this albums ultimate premise: “I’m Jonny Lang. I’ve been changed, and I mean it.”

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