Raw, exciting, emotional; Lang is back with a driving truckload of bluesrockgospelfunksoul.
Label: Concord Records /Provogue Records
Time: 11 tracks / 48 Minutes
When you’ve been away for four years, you should have enough new songs to get excited about, and I can confirm it: Jonny Lang is excited.
Every song is intrinsically very good, but it is the visceral passion in his performances that brings them to life and takes them to another level. “Last Man Standing” hurtles ahead with huge determination like a runner who’s just about to fall over, but knows he can keep up by running even faster.
This set starts with the ‘happy accident’ of “Make it Move” – a song that just appeared one day as the musicians were about to pack up – and it shows as a last-minute-write-and-record as it is such an unrefined track, with rough guitar and driven vocals. But that was the feel that Lang wanted for this release: bluesy and raw in the spirit of Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson.
But in stark contrast, vocal hooks added in are silky smooth, and that variety extends to the whole disc, which systematically runs through several genres.
“What You’re Made of” is powerfully slow funk that forces your legs to move on the up-beat and it’s one of the places where Drew Ramey’s bass runs wild.
By the disc’s end, we’ve passed through some Prince falsetto a couple of times, a snatch of Deep Purple (the bluesy, bass drum stomp of “Into the Light” starts off like a raw version of their “Mistreated”) and moved into more of a funk fest, before hitting a slow ballad and closing with “Singing Songs,” whose orchestral chorus builds and almost goes on forever (think of it as Lang’s "Hey Jude" moment).
The soulful, tired-of-the-road ballad “Bring Me Back Home” is essential for catching breath after these powerful songs.
The collection is stronger for having such a bleeding of genres one into another. Lang’s bluesrockgospelfunksoul sounds pretty fiery.
While I recently read a comment by some publication that suggested his faith was a passing phase, this album suggests it’s anything but. Biblical phrases abound (making mountains move is from the gospels; and some of the lines about Wisdom are straight out of Proverbs). “What You’re Made of” is about the fight for your soul and life, and – like several of the lyrics – it’s about standing firm and being determined not to give in to fear. The wonderful “Into the light” is about moving there from the darkness.
Then in “Snakes,” probably referring to how faith saved him from his addictions, he sings,
“If it’s going to be my last breath, I‘d better use it to pray
Heaven must have been listening, coz I’m still alive today.”
If there is an overall theme, it’s that life is not there to be wasted, but grabbed and made to count. Where Christian blends into plain common sense and goodwill is a blurred boundary, but the standout “Bitter End” is there somewhere as he laments our planet's self-destructive habits:
“Why tear down a wall, to build it up again?
Why start another war, kill another man?...
Will we keep repeating history until the bitter end?”
Early on, Lang’s distinctive playing shows more passion than prowess and is more impetuous than polished, with stuttering sounds that he just has to get out there. On “Make it Move,” his playing comes in the sort of bursts that Free legend Paul Kossoff might make with Robin Trower’s guitar. While the title track also contains a strangely under-powered and wonky guitar solo, on “Last Man Standing,” he rocks out. The song is taut and riffy.
How can the man fit so much into 48 minutes? Come the end, I am emotionally sated after experiencing that pent up four year wait being unleashed in gushing torrents. There's primal energy here, impassioned performances and a production that captures the innate power of these songs. Sonically, it's as explosive as tinder, kerosene and a spark.