After achieving so much with their band, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora decided to go their own ways and see what they could do as solo artists. Jon Bon Jovi's Blaze of Glory proved to be an immediate success, both musically and commercially; while Sambora released his debut a year later to mixed reviews. Although the average Bon Jovi fan took to the album right away, from a commercial standpoint, it didn't earn Sambora quite what he may have hoped for. Regardless, musically, Stranger in This Town is a terribly overlooked gem, and it exudes unadulterated songwriting brilliance.
Behind Richie Sambora, there are two of his long-time band mates: David Bryan on keyboards and Tico Torres on drums. Torres' playing strictly serves the purpose of the songs; he doesn't really do any lengthy drum acrobatics, but there are pieces that allow him to shine through. Bryan, on the other hand, is integral to the overall sound of the album, as his keyboards are, at some point, the defining factors of the songs. Also, he co-wrote two tracks: the beautiful album intro "Rest in Peace", a wonderful song based on profound blues licks and Sambora's emotive vocals; and the ambitious title track, which sees the duo merging nifty acoustic guitars with delicate synth lines. Bryan is also highly audible on the truly moving ballad "Father Time", complete with Desmond Child's signature hooks, distant female vocals, and a warm melodic edge.
Though a solo album, only three of the ten songs were written entirely by Richie Sambora. "Church of Desire" is the mid-paced piece, centred around moody keyboards and blues-inflected guitar riffs. The song is carried by a thick bass groove, and Sambora's guitar solo is truly heartfelt and emotional. On "River of Love", Tony Levin's bass arpeggios become central to the piece, especially when supported by Torres' spare drum beats. Finally, "Mr Bluesman", by many known as the album's minor hit, Sambora's greatest influence, Eric Clapton, makes a guest appearance playing an improvised blues solo where he rips it up. Despite its five-minute running time, even Torres gets to play a brief drum solo, yet it's all within the context of the song and the writing is truly impressive.
That said, the album being more on the blues rock spectrum of things didn't really produce any radio hits. Actually, Sambora did collaborate with Desmond Child on two tracks, one of them being "Rosie", arguably the most popular cut off of this track. Also co-written by Jon Bon Jovi, the piece has a solid hook, but truth be told, it does not gel that well with the rest of the pieces, which seem more honest and from the heart. Likewise, "One Light Burning" might have been his take on poppier songwriting; he tries to merge cool beats and percussion work with Randy Jackson's bass playing whilst injecting the piece with a sing-along main chorus, but it doesn't really work -- Sambora is simply more of a blues-ridden rock guitarist than someone who can churn out easily accessible melodies. That's obviously Jon Bon Jovi's strong side.
Stranger in This Town is in many ways better than most of the Bon Jovi catalog. Even after sixteen years, most of the songs are still timeless and still imbued with emotional power. It's also filled with material we'd normally never hear on a Bon Jovi release, so kudos to Sambora. He was totally right when he wrote that "listening instruction" in the liner notes: "Turn down the lights, light a candle... Welcome..."
- Rest In Peace
- Church of Desire
- Stranger in This Town
- Ballad of Youth
- One Light Burning
- Mr. Bluesman
- River of Love
- Father Time
- The Answer