It’s been four years since Jonny Lang released his last album, Fight For My Soul, and now he’s back with a new record, Signs. Fans of his very early material have been chomping at the bit for him to return to the pure blues roots that first caught their attention, but Lang has evolved as an artist to continue spreading his Christian message and incorporating more soul, gospel and R&B into his sound. The 11-song album was produced by Lang, Drew Ramsey and Shannon Sanders, both of whom co-wrote and produced much of 2006’s Turn Around, and their input definitely is discernible. There are moments where you can hear bits and pieces of that record on this one. Fans can revel in the powerful yet understated guitar-driven blues sound that is more apparent than on the last album. But, make no mistake. This is NOT the 15-year-old guitar phenom with the 40-year-old gritty blues voice anymore. This is the 36-year-old husband and father who has seen his share of ups and downs, overcome his struggles and matured into a man on a mission. Lang is equally at home sharing a soul-searching love ballad in a crazy-high falsetto or an adult contemporary pop tune as he is belting out a gravelly blues number. And that’s ok, because he has earned that right.
Strongly echoing “Turn Around,” the title track from his last record, “Make It Move” opens the latest addition to Lang’s catalog with a funky, choppy guitar-heavy beat and an alternating vocal comprised of his trademark rasp and falsetto, all combining into a spectacular kickoff. The first six cuts will all make you move to their funky groove, the bluesiest being the title track, “Signs.” “Bitter End” is a favorite, with some big vocals and guitar. Midway the tone shifts gears with “Stronger Together,” the most pop-oriented sound on the record, and statement songs “Into the Light” and “Wisdom,” the latter featuring killer guitar. The standout gem, “Bring Me Home,” is a poignant piano/guitar accompanied-ballad that also takes a brilliant smack at music piracy: “Tired of all of these bootleggers giving me away for free and leave my soul to bleed. I need to be redeemed.” The closer, “Singing Songs,” an acoustic, bittersweet piece that features a beautiful vocal range and mournful strings at the end, is a prime example of why Jonny Lang can do basically whatever he wants on a record and it will be amazing, because when a song moves a listener to tears, the writer has succeeded. I initially thought it was the wrong song for the closer, but I realized it was the perfect and only choice.
In a world where few artists remain true to who they are or who they choose to be, it is always refreshing to hear new music from the handful who do. Lang has proven, once again, that he is still at the top of his game and I truly look forward to hearing this material performed live.