Review Summary: This second album from blues-guitar prodigy Lang shows a maturity beyond his years, and an impressive technical mastery of guitar.
Since he released Lie to Me
in 1997 at the age of 15, Jonny Lang has been marked as the next great blues guitarist. Sure enough, with Wander This World
Lang, still at the tender age of 17, has managed to present a classic blues/rock album that avoids simply rehashing the sounds of guitarists like Eric Clapton and B. B. King.
Lang's bluesy rock guitar comes roaring in strong with "Still Rainin'," which meshes strong riffs, piano and Lang's heartfelt and earthy voice with some incendiary solos. "Still Rainin'" is the perfect introduction to a new, more mature Jonny Lang - although no one would accuse Lang of having a "traditional" voice, his husky tenor gives otherwise standard blues lyrics a bit of heart. "Second Guessing" slows the pace a bit, with a fairly traditional but still affecting blues ballad. More impressive guitar work carries this uplifting tribute to a shy, withdrawn object of affection.
After the reasonably subdued "Second Guessing," "I Am" starts with a bouncy drum beat and eventually becomes an impressive blend of rhythms aided by sparse but well-placed guitar. Lang's voice isn't at his best, but the rhythm guarantees tapping toes and a bobbing head. Lang again slows the pace with "Breakin' Me," a lovely little lament to a former lover. The song is a bit formulaic, but yet again Lang is able to invest feeling and experience into the story, sounding far more worldly than a 17-year old has any right to.
The title track is one of the best on the record, bringing a charming acoustic base into a world-weary story of a search for meaning, with a truly fantastic electric solo. "Wander This World" manages to encapsulate the best of the album, with some of the most heartfelt lyrics delivered with feeling and incendiary guitar work. If "Wander This World" is the best of the blues/rock tracks, then "Walking Away" is the best ballad. An honest look at a loving yet troubled relationship, one wonders where a teenager would get the experience to write such an affecting song, as "Walking Away" is one of only two tracks on the album that Lang co-wrote.
"The Levee" is a traditional, unassuming Southern-style blues track that Lang manages to infuse with feeling and the inexplicable appearance of experience. "Angel of Mercy" is nothing special lyrically, but it highlights Lang's technical skill on the guitar as well as any other song on the record. The opening solo is impressive, but the bridge solo will catch and hold the attention of any listener that appreciates good guitar work.
Even though "Angel of Mercy" has such impressive guitar, "Right Back" is the quintessential example of what makes Jonny Lang so enjoyable - it's a rollicking blues/rock tune paired with lyrics that are made almost inconsequential by Lang's spirited delivery. "Leaving to Stay," however, is by far my favorite track. With this tale of a jaded and bitter man, Lang again boggles the mind with his experience-beyond-his-years delivery and emotional resonance.
After the emotion of "Leaving to Stay," "Before You Hit the Ground" is bound to be a bit of a let-down. It still remains, however, a bouncy and enjoyable number, although lacking the feeling of Lang's best work. That complaint does not hold for "Cherry Red Wine," as Lang ends with a bang through this bluesy masterpiece that conjures the image of a broken man slumped in a squalid apartment with the remains of a bottle of wine. Once more, Lang's delivery makes one wonder how a 17-year old could feel such deep emotions. What makes "Cherry Red Wine" possibly the best track on the record, however, is the virtuoso guitar work that drives the song from beginning to end, with both solid rhythm work and brilliant solos.
I'm sure it's hard to live up to the label of the Next Great Blues Guitarist, and Jonny Lang is certainly not quite there yet. But with Wander This World
, he takes a giant step towards fulfilling all of his promise. While some tracks certainly stand out from the rest, every single song is, at worst, filled with impressive guitar work and more mature vocals than on Lie to Me
, which makes Wander This World
a thoroughly satisfying listen and proof that with an up-and-coming guitarist of Jonny Lang's caliber leading the way, blues is primed for a resurgence.