Have you ever listened to a CD and cast it off as “just ok?” Then, you come across one of the songs a little while later and it changes the whole outlook of the CD. That’s exactly what happened to me with Richie Sambora‘s first solo CD, Stranger In This Town, released 25 years ago this year.
I first got it after hearing the single “Ballad of Youth.” I was a Bon Jovi fan and figured this would be a good guitar CD of Sambora shredding in a way he couldn’t in Bon Jovi. I was wrong. It was a lot more blues-based and mellower than I anticipated. There were some good songs, especially “Stranger In This Town,” but I just wasn’t into it very much.
A few months passed and somewhere I heard “The Answer.” I was blown away at how good this song was/is. A finger-picked, acoustic-based ballad that stopped me in my tracks. It was hauntingly good with the perfect vibe (check out the video below to hear it).
It completely changed what I thought of what the CD was supposed to be. I re-listened to the entire CD with a new mindset and I loved it. So much so that it’s on my list of island CDs (the CDs I would want if I was ever stranded on a deserted island). In the liner notes, Sambora lists the “Listening Instructions” which I should have followed the first time I listened to it: “Turn down the lights, light a candle, and welcome…”
“Rest in Peace” kicks off the CD as the sounds swells. It could be an extended intro to “Church of Desire” as it flows right into it. These two songs set the stage for the mood of the CD. This leads to the outstanding title track. Jon Bon Jovi has said he wishes Sambora would have saved that for the band. “Ballad of Youth” kicks up the tempo a bit before slowing it back down for “One Light Burning.”
“Mr. Bluesman” is about Sambora‘s hero, Eric Clapton, and features Clapton performing the guitar solo. “Rosie” and “River of Love” are two of the weaker tracks on the album, in my opinion. Still good, but don’t seem to fit as well with the rest of the songs. “Father Time” brings it back to original mood of the CD with a moody song about lost love. “The Answer“, mentioned above, rounds out the CD.
This CD is a must have for all guitar fans. In a time when most 80’s hard rock guitars were shredding like crazy if they did a solo CD, Sambora went the opposite way. Don’t get me wrong, his guitar work shines here, but all in the context of the songs. Sambora said in an interview about his more commercially-minded second CD, Undiscovered Soul, that he was approaching Stranger in This Town from a soulful place. It was a great place, and it’s worth it for you to revisit a moment in time when he was able to put out such a great CD.