Music Monday: Stranger in this Town

Welcome to another Music Monday, and the second complete album of this series. This one is by Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi’s former lead guitarist) and it’s probably one of the more obscure albums in my collection. It’s much easier to get these days (hello, Amazon!) but back when it was first released in 1991…

As the previous post mentioned, I got introduced to Bon Jovi in my early teens and, as is the way of teenage girls (sometimes, at least) I got a bit obsessed. I wanted to know more about them and Wikipedia was still a good seven or eight years away. So when MTV Europe dedicated an entire weekend to them…well! Thirty years on, I can honestly say I don’t remember much of what I saw that weekend, but one thing that made an utterly indelible mark was one particular three minute music video. It was mainly shot in black and white, it featured a guy and a guitar and I was blown away by the music. One of the most important things MTV did when they screened videos is they showed who the artist was, what the song was and what the album was (if there was one), so when that information came up I had something to go on.

Turned out the guy was the Bon Jovi lead guitarist, Richie Sambora, and the album was Stranger in this Town. Trouble was, no-one had heard of either him or the album, which had been released about eighteen months prior!

It took me six months of trawling through record shops before I finally tracked down a copy of the album…and even then, all I could find was the CD release and there was one, teeeeeeeeny issue with that: I didn’t have a CD player! It took another couple of months before I found someone who was willing to copy it to tape for me and another week or so before I had the tape copy in my hands, by which point I was almost scared to play it. What if I didn’t like it? What if, after all this, that song wasn’t as good second time through? What if, what if, what if.

I played the tape.

And it turned out that it was, indeed, worth the wait and the anticipation. From the slightly trippy opening track, Rest in Peace, to the philosophical closing track, The Answer, the whole album was a delight. There’s a couple of tracks that would have fitted in on New Jersey (Church of Desire and Rosie – which was actually written for New Jersey but cut at the demo stage), there’s the bluesy title track and Mr Bluesman, with a cameo from Eric Clapton. One Light Burning is a haunting bit of composition dominated by some gorgeous guitar work. Father Time is a fine bit of musical melodrama, while River of Love is what it is: not my favourite track, but enjoyable to dance to!

And the track that kicked this all off? That was Ballad of Youth and thirty years on it’s still one of my top five songs, ever. There isn’t any one thing about it that I could point to to say “That’s why I love it”, it’s everything about it. For me, it’s a nigh-on perfect combination of everything I love: it’s got some well-observed lyrics, it’s got layers, it’s got layers of guitar work, it’s a song I have listened to on repeat and still found new things to like. It is just THAT good to my ears!

It’s overall not as strong an album as New Jersey (I do skip a couple of tracks if I’m not in the right mood) but it’s probably the album that crystalised the sort of guitar sound and style that I love and that ultimately lead me towards David Gilmour (with and without Pink Floyd), also Marillion (with and without Fish) and Mark Knopfler (with and without Dire Straits) – though admittedly, Knopfler was already someone I knew quite well (musically speaking).

Next week, the final album of the trio.

Until then, happy reading and listening!

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