Reviewed by Michael Ehret
Turn Around by Jonny Lang
"Lang mixes funk, gospel, and the blues into a tasty gumbo jumble that comes out on the right side of unique."
If you are a real music lover, now and then you buy something on a whim. Not because of any press you’ve read. Not because you like the artist. Not because you’re even familiar with the artist.
And once in a while those whims pay off big time.
Recently I purchased Jonny Lang’s latest album, Turn Around. Now, I knew a little about Lang. I knew he was a blues artist. I knew he started as a child prodigy, of sorts, astounding the music and blues world at 16. And I knew this disc was his “Christian” disc. But I had never heard anything of his.
Well, now I’ve heard everything. Shortly after listening to this disc, I located Lang’s back catalog and have been inhaling it, listening to very little else. That’s how good “Turn Around” is.
In turn, Lang sounds like an in tune Bob Dylan, a younger Eric Clapton, a white Prince – all of those, but none of them. I admit I do not have a depth of knowledge in the blues genre, but I know good music – and this is good music. Lang mixes funk, gospel, and the blues into a tasty gumbo jumble that comes out on the right side of unique.
After a short intro piece, Lang gets down to business with a funky Stax type number, “Bump in the Road,” all about a guy who’s “been on the wrong track with the wrong map.” Musical highlights in addition to Lang’s guitar, is Shannon Sanders’ organ work. Sanders keeps the track chugging.
From there Lang segues into “One Person at a Time,” a joint with an Eric Clapton “Change the World”-type vibe, but blues-ed up a bit more.
Lang has taken some heat for being so blatant about his Christianity on this disc – and that’s a shame. The music here is great and shows Lang’s continuing maturation as an artist and performer. Yeah, his worldview is Christian – but so what? If his worldview were hedonistic, no one would be complaining. The guy’s a brilliant musician.
On his Web site, Lang wrote about Turn Around: “With this album I want to focus, more than ever before, on my purpose in life,” he said. “I’ve been so incredibly blessed. 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.”
That downward spiral seems to be chronicled on the song, “Only a Man,” Lang’s apparent testimonial. Backed with only acoustic guitar and fiddle, and with his wife, Haylie’s vocal support, this song cuts like a knife in the hands of the Holy Spirit.
I grew up singing songs in church // With questions in my mind // Then turned my back and ran away // From God who gave me life // Then one night His presence fell // I wept and shook and then // I fell down and cried ‘Dear Jesus, rescue me again.
And then the song digs in with Haylie singing the voice of God over Jonny’s brokenhearted narrator – and in the process Lang exposes the moment he turned his life over to God.
I’ll give you my burden, (I’ll give you peace) // All of my desires, (I’ll give you what you need) // Oh, what about these chains, Lord? (I’ll set you free) // But they’re so heavy. (Lay them at my feet) // I’ll lay them at your feet, just promise you won’t leave (I’ll never leave) // So where do I go from here, Lord? (Just follow me, just follow me) // I’ll follow You.
That’s courageous. That’s real. That’s a holy moment. And Lang shares it with his listeners and the fans that have followed him since his 1996 phenomenal debut Lie To Me. I had to pull the car over to give the song its due listen.
There’s nothing bad on this disc, but other highlights worth noting are the Steve Winwood-esque “Thankful”, a duet with former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald; the title cut assuring listeners that it’s never too late to turn around from the mistakes you’ve made; “My Love Remains”, a love song sung from God’s point of view.
I look forward to Lang’s next release. I hope he has the courage to continue celebrating who he is in Christ unapologetically. The Christian music “ghetto” needs Lang – and others like him – to show what can be done when you have the courage of your artistic convictions.
Michael Ehret is a music maven who has written about music, secular and Christian, as a reporter for The Indianapolis Star newspaper, several Internet sites, and even CCM magazine. He is also the editor of the newsletter Afictionado, the e-zine of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and is testing the waters with his first novel, Beyond December, while working on his second, Skipping July.