Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Undiscovered Soul

You'll come to find out why I find 'Undiscovered Soul' a very apt title for this blog post. Anyone who listens to music of any genre will no doubt have heard of the long haired rock 'n' roll machine that is Bon Jovi. This band have been releasing multi platinum albums for 30 years now and have become well known for hits such as 'Livin on A Prayer', 'It's My Life' and 'You Give Love A Bad Name'. Despite having millions of fans across the globe there are also millions of people who either dislike or just don't take interest in this great band. But love them or hate them, what can't be denied is that each band member is a world class rock musician in his own right and so I arrive at the topic of this blog post: Lead guitarist Richie Sambora...

Bon Jovi fans will already be aware that Richie recently left the band, whether it be on a permanent basis or otherwise. This is sad news for fans such as I but I won't be dwelling on that here. Instead I hope to raise awareness of Sambora as a solo artist and musician in his own right. Many Bon Jovi fans buy a ticket  to a show based on Richie's presence in the band alone so it is no surprise that he is capable of releasing some great music of his own.

First of all, don't go thinking that his music is just a re-hash of Bon Jovi with a different vocalist. It's far more soulful and differs in style depending on which of the three albums you listen too but each one has an Americana feel to it. Richie is a superb guitarist and upon listening to his records you maybe surprised to find he has an unbelievably good and powerful voice too (better than Jon Bon Jovi's in my opinion).

The Stranger in this town album was released during a 17 month Bon Jovi hiatus in 1991. It didn't top the charts and likely flew under the radar of most non- Bon Jovi fans. It may not have contained the ingredients which make a top ten album but the infusion of blues rock, soul and americana make for an incredible mix of both rock anthems and ballads alike. This album has its own atmosphere and it could not have been titled any better. You can really hear these songs echoing through the deserted, midnight streets of some small town out in the midwestern countryside. Maybe this is just the romantic in me but I can just picture Richie sat on his guitar case by the side of some dusty road on the outskirts of town, playing his songs for the moon and the stars. The album opener 'Rest In Peace' is arguably the weakest song on the album but by no means is it a skipper. A murky yet atmospheric number which really sets the tone for the album where Richie exhibits some of the licks and guitar work he has become famous for. The high points of the album are the title track which really sets the scene for the album, 'Ballad of Youth' displays some very intricate guitar playing whilst being one of the more up-tempo, anthemic numbers on the record with Richie singing about the struggles of growing up and living for the moment. 'Father Time' is the power ballad on the record and also my personal favourite about love lost and hearts broken with a powerful chorus, Richie really showing off his vocal range. Other numbers of note are 'Rosie' which as a track written for Bon Jovi's New Jersey album and 'Church of Desire'. Rosie is the most Jovi-like song on the record, very catchy with the typical riffs that you might expect from a Bon Jovi song. I could talk about each song in more detail but I won't. All you need to realise is that there are no fillers on this album and if you like blues, soul and rock'n'roll it is well worth listening to over and over again.

For his second album Richie left behind the echoing power ballads from 'Stranger in this Town' and opted for a cleaner sounding heartland rock album. Reflecting back on his previous album Richie said he was coming down from a really soulful place' and not necessarily writing for anyone else but himself. The songs of heartache and struggle are in the past and there is a real positive, feel good factor to this album with a cleaner sound to boot. Even the few songs that deal with adversity seem to have an 'everything will be ok' feel to them. These songs seem effortless and the majority of songs on this album make for a great listen as you speed down the highway with the top down. Kicking off with a strong biographical number called 'Made in America', an uplifting tune to set the scene, it becomes clear straight away that this album has been written to be noticed. Heartfelt love songs such as 'In it for Love' provide welcome breaks from rockier numbers such as 'Who I Am' and 'If God Was A Woman' and you really get the impression that Richie means what he's singing, as if the emotions in those songs are held dear to his heart. That comes through with his delivery on the vocals. Richie has retained his ability to create an atmosphere with within select songs on this record. 'Harlem Rain' really captures a loneliness on the 'streets of pain' which is reminiscent of the setting for Stranger in This Town and the title track 'Undiscoverd Soul' is an epic track to finish the album, its characters dealing with adversity as they try to make it in 'the great unknown'. This an album full of typical Richie Sambora riffs, it retains the soulful nature of his vocals and contains no throw away tracks. Of the three he has released, this is the album most likely to appeal to a wider audience.

In 2012 Richie released his third album 'Aftermath of the Lowdown'. Its ok... it doesn't hit the heights of his first two and so I'd only buy it after you've enjoyed the earlier records. I feel that this album takes several elements of the previous two whilst exploring some different themes and throwing in a few curve balls for good measure. This album does have a few throw away tracks, which I'm not sure I understand too well. 'Burn That Candle Down' and  'Sugar Daddy' come to mind here and in some places the lyrics just don't stand up against Richie's earlier work. Having said that, you get this with a lot of artists so if you don't mind skipping a few tracks there are still some gems to be discovered. The lead single' Every Road Leads Home To You' and another track 'I'll Always Walk Beside You 'are both very good songs. 'Seven Years Gone' is very reminiscent of the vibe i felt on Undiscovered Soul so its nice to be reminded that Richie is still capable of producing credible songs. Perhaps my favourite song on this album is the closer 'Backseat Driver'. For those who have had somebody walk all over you this is your rebellion song and even for those who haven't this is a real fun rocker which will have you singing into your steering wheel. Whilst Richie may have lost his way slightly with this album it is still well worth a listen. For me it didn't retain a similar theme throughout so I suppose I see it as a bit of a mongrel, his lyrics let him down at times and on the odd song he tries too hard to squeeze in long solo parts which perhaps weren't necessary.

 In terms of musicianship and vocals Richie's still got it. Bon Jovi's recent albums haven't really done it for me like they used to so I'm starting to think that maybe this break up could allow Richie to spread his wings a little more and develop as more of a solo artist. I'm of course sad to see such a prominent figure of one of my favourite bands depart but I also know I'm powerless to change it so I will appreciate the great music I've experienced over the years and just hope for the best for all the Bon Jovi guys in the future.

The way I see it, Richie Sambora IS an undiscovered soul. Bon Jovi aside, he has had the tallent (over the past couple of decades) to stand up as a credible solo artist in his own right but I would guess that most of his own album and ticket sales will have been made to those within the Bon Jovi fan circle. If only more people could hear some of this music then many would feel much better for it...

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