Jonny Lang’s “Signs” rolls out like thunder

jonny-lang-signs-1I can’t exactly figure out why Jonny Lang is the recipient of complaints that he needs to “get back to the blues.”  He never left it.

He did manage to leave the randier, entendre-ridden traditions of the blues with his baptism in 2006, but that’s about it.  The confluence between Muddy waters, Stevie Wonder and Prince have always been there, even during the Wander this World and Long Time Coming releases.

But it was his Turn Around album, forged out of experiences during the Azusa St. Centennial that forever changed the hand that occupied the musical glove.  In a sense, it became his inaugural work. Followed by Fight for My Soul,and now, as of yesterday in the United States, Signs.

And his sophomore, post-deluvian work is, to my mind, his best, and perhaps his best ever.

The album opens up with Make it Move A hopeful song that simply talk of putting feet to your prayers.  As an opener (assuming you’re not consumed with the Gen-x/Millenial, iPod Shuffle approach to listening to albums) it sets the tone:  No drums, but foot-stomping percussion and maybe a snare if some kind.  The implication being that the tempo is not set by the artificial.

Next is Snakes, a cautionary tale of adversaries of all kinds. This also is galvanized by a pentatonic-based riff and a vintage sounding amp.

The, the title cut, Signs–in effect, a lament about the fact that the world is increasing in coarseness and hard-heartedness exponentially, and that closing one’s eyes and wishing it all away will not change it:

These are signs

These are the times

Something ain’t right . . .

Followed by the question:

Who’s gonna–make it right?

The primary riff and melody in this chorus, sung in the powerhouse falsetto that falls in the Prince/Steven Tyler school of vocal delivery.

Songs like What You’re made of and Stronger Together respectively deal with the character of mankind and the sum total of what happens when we dwell together in Unity.  The latter is the most commercial of the songs on the album, and while lyrically amazing, is nowhere near my musical heart.

Bitter End is a slow-burn hit waiting to happen–a song asking when will mankind stop repeating history’s worst errors (although I am of course assuming that the music industry isn’t a sham–kind of like the motorcars at disneyland that run on a track; you THINK you’re steering, but really) . . . if this thing were given the airplay that “Stronger Together” is being given, it is this obscure hacks’s opinion that it would find it’s way into the contemplative hearts of many.

Into the Light is a straight-up blues/rock requiem to the captives in this life–the desperate–the addicted–those living in darkness. And make no mistake, this isn’t a palliative call for social changes.  There are implications of metaphysical wheels in motion:

Dark world has a ruler supreme

He’s the one they call the ShapeShift King

You never see him, feel him pulling the strings

No escaping ‘s case he holding the keys

Under the street, they cry, “give us a sign

we’ve got to leave this dark world behind

we need the strength–to fight-crack the sky

We’ve got to leave this dark world

and step into the light.”

Wisdom has all the blues and foot-stomp tradition of the opener–a slow-tempo song about young men’s folly.  And nearly my favorite song on the record.

Bring Me Back Home is a song that appears to be written to Jonny’s wife, but that’s only my cheap-seat assessment.  Larger message is: Marriage and family are first.

The final song, Singing Songs, employs the grandiose, string-laden, melodic approach that might drive been inspired by a Broadway play–it has an almost Spanish-flamenco undertone, and a Hernando’s Hideaway rhythmic approach–although much slower.

Lastly, Jonny’s voice.  There is no voice on the planet like that. How a white kid from the Minneapolis/Fargo regions comes off sounding like some grizzled hybrid of an old, whiskey-soaked black man and Prince Rogers Nelson is beyond me. The production values keep his voice sounding organic–and I’ve seen him seven times; trust me: he REALLY sounds like that.

If I have any complaints it would be this: Jonny seems to like the technique of using the “over the telephone” effect to, I guess be the “other voice” in a lyrical conversation. I find it distracting, but that’s probably just me.

The other has to do with the guitar playing that has set him apart since he went gold at 15 years of age: the last three records have defaulted to a lead guitar tone that seems to be on the cusp of power, but never fully takes off. As player and listener, knowing exactly what that man is capable of, it forces me into the frustrated posture of wanting to finish a sentence for someone whose voice is cracking.  However, my theory is, he’s subtly trying to make sure the song as whole is not offset by the guitar-god status conferred upon him early.

Still, I give this album four stars.  The worldviews expressed are clear.  And they point NORTH.

Those who would express disillusionment that Jonny’s not making a straight gospel record should read Psalm 59.

Those who think he has departed from the blues should read the same.

 

 

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In which I blatantly borrow my own Amazon review of Erwin McManus’ “The Last Arrow” and post it here.

Three years ago, when I was 47 and contemplating the horizon of my fifth decade on the planet, I had an introspective fit–the kind that proves that encroaching mortality starts to get in your head.

Yet, I’m not sure that these moments are aberrant; in fact I would say not.  I’d say we are all created with a small, internal hedge-fund of eternal awareness, that-assuming the markets are clear–gain gradual interest and makes us wonder when the bubble is going to pop.

This led me to to write this column, Jimmy Hendrix set his guitar on fire, and because of that I’m changing my life.  To quickly summarize, Jimi’s famous pyrotechnic shenanigans at the ’67 Monterey Pop Festival have transcendent meaning for me.  They also probably mean he was riding the whitecaps of hallucinogenic drugs, but just let me have my moment; it was a victory over the temporal in deference to something more.

I love that moment so much, that few years ago, during a church youth camp (of which I was a musician), it occurred to me that THIS was the place that Jimi decided to go all “Pyrrhic Stratocaster up in this crib.”.  If you enter the arena, to this day nothing has changed,  The same wooden floor/stage is there, along with a burnt spot that has been accentuated by hapless, sycophantic knuckleheads like myself.

I talked my friend Cody into sleeping on that stage, just so I could say I did it.  And on  an inflatable mattress I slept–on top of Jimi’s Schizoid Magnum Opus.

Most notably, my article leads up to this moment of abandon, that if I had my ‘druthers, would happen in short order:

But the moment he torched his Stratocaster at the 1967 Monterey Pop festival does have a takeaway. Temporal over eternal. Whether or not that was Jimi’s point, we’ll never know. But his willingness to disconnect from his material Doppelgänger is instructive. In fact, I’m hoping one day, Itzhak Perlman is ricocheting that bow off his 300-year-old Stradivarius violin, playing Paganini’s 24 Caprices, and then suddenly stops, looks at the audience, and says, That’s it. I’m done. Gandkids are waiting for me in the truck. Goodnight Dallas! Then shoves the Strad scroll right through the monitors, and bounces out.

This leads me to my review of this book, “The Last Arrow. Save Nothing for the Next Life.”  I had hastily written it for Amazon, mainly since I’ve been a fan of Erwin McManus since February.  Two problems emegered when I posted my review:

  1. I found out I was not a “verified purchaser,” and because of that, Amazon gets to use some kind of sheep/goat algorithm to throw my review into the margins–kind of the like the cheap seats my wife and I had at a Don Ho concert in 1996, where he was supposed to ignore me because I didn’t buy dinner.(Word up: He didn’t).  So chances are, my review will only be read by people who specifically circumvent the search feature that forces me into the sackcloth of the marginalized,  Molokai lepers of “non-verification.”
  2. I can’t edit a syntax issue that’s driving me nuts.

9781601429537

But since I don’t like NOT seeing what I think is a decent run-down of a book I love so much, I hereby plagiarize myself thus:

AMAZON REVIEW:

I discovered Erwin McManus when I attended the 2017 Poets & Preachers conference in Redding, Ca. I remember sitting there when he walked out, realizing he was the author of the book I had just purchased a few hours earlier, The Artisan Soul.

I also recall sitting there certifiably stunned at what was an amazing communication style; part storyteller, part latent, observational comic, and seemingly effortless distiller of even the most redundant biblical account into something somehow hidden by the heretofore.

I left there, along with a daughter on the cusp of adulthood, realizing that I was not the only one that was going to continue listening to anything and everything he sets on the road. His podcast is a common staple of my life now, and even better—there’s a 17-year-old that actively listens to, and speaks of his messages to others—no mean feat.

My copy of “The Last Arrow” arrived on September 5, and it took me 24 hours (thanks to a day job that represents a million burnt-plows) to read it. I won’t make a long-scope essay about it, but understand this; he is not advocating the shallow, nihilistic “eat drink, be merry, for tomorrow we die” flag that is planted in Isaiah; he is saying, “we have a purpose. The worst thing we could do is fall short of that by refusing to expend the potential God gave us.”

The book’s centrifugal point is the story of Elisha, who gives what seems to be a simple command to Jehoash, which is to result in a victory over the Aramean army: Open the East window, and fire an arrow over them.

Simple enough. But then he commands Jehoash to take the remaining arrows and “strike the ground.”

He strikes three times and then stops. Elisha becomes angry. He tells Jehoash, that because he stopped short of expending the last arrow, the sure victory was evaporated.

Elisha dies. End of story. We are left to extrapolate that Jehoash wasn’t committed to victory, but obedience to the technical catalog of direction. This was a case in which the letter of the law actually killed people.

And it comes to this: What was he saving those arrows for? If not him, who? If not now, when?

From here, McManus invades our comfort zones, by applying this to every aspect of our life. But when I say “invade,” I don’t mean that this is a book that tries to classically “put rocks in one’s bed,” or ”push our boundaries.” On the contrary, this book leads by gently pulling. Beckoning. Reasoning.

Showing.

Some great examples from culture, film, dance, and a myriad of scriptural parallels. He even broaches The X-Files, in case you find yourself equally intrigued by the connecting tissue of conspiracy theories.

Neither is the book some philosophical Pollyanna. He makes no bones about the fact that rising above the status quo has social consequences, as those who prefer to remain in safe—or ”average” zones with regards to anything do not generally find comfort in those that shirk that position. However, it is possible to “find your tribe” among those who, no matter their origin, circumstances, wealth or social position, hold these same values—and that it’s okay to make them your primary friendships.

He also gives great cautions between burning the bridges to the past vs. burning the ones that define our relationships. There is a great benefit to a consuming fire charring irredeemability into the ruins of the past—but wisdom must dictate these moves, because if Jesus isn’t manifest, it’s worthless.

In short, this book in some ways, represents the actual, tangible skeleton off of which the prosperity gospel’s flaccid epidermis was ripped; God does have things for us to do. He does have gifts and treasures waiting for us. But the real treasure lies in our purpose and relationship to HIM. There is no greater joy than to be right where He wants us to be. And by George, if he gives you a quiver full of arrows, and a finite number of days upon the earth, there is no greater obligation in the world than to open the East window and fire into the unknown until He calls you home.

–Ron Giesecke

 

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Playing with Eric Martin 


It not everyday that one gets to take a stage with a vocalist whom ranks in my top ten singers. And yet, I get to do it again. For the third time.

July 14th, the Throckmorton theatre. Mill Valley, Ca.  Got my fret-fingers ready for this one . . .

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Headed to NAMM

I know. I know. It’s been awhile.

Headed to the the 2017 NAMM Show in Anaheim, very early the morning.

Just wanted to tell somebody.

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Happy 240 to my country.

In spite of its flaws, it’s the greatest nation on earth.

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To The McCloud River


To this magical place. All I’m sayin . . 

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Well, Brazil . . .


It would appear that we are going to become acquainted sooner than I thought.

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